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NYC Senior Citizens Asked to Pay Back ‘Gift From Obama’

The first few weeks after Superstorm Sandy were a trying time for every resident of New York City, especially those in flooded areas like Bar Harbor, Queens. Residents lacked basic services like water, food deliveries, electricity, and sanitary conditions. In the first week or two, there was little relief work, if any, to be found, especially for the city’s most vulnerable: elderly residents of assisted living facilities and in high rise buildings.


In 2012, immediately following the storm, I wrote about the conditions for those in the nearby Rockaways area for Commentary Magazine:

Rabbi Shay Schachter, assistant rabbi at the Rockaways’ “White Shul” told me about the dire straits his community was in in the first nine days after the storm struck. FEMA only arrived the following Tuesday after the storm and initially had to rely on local relief groups like the Long Island JCC for information. Rabbi Schachter had been running groups of local students and volunteers into three 17-story buildings in his community, filled largely with poor and elderly residents. He told me that when they first arrived five days after the storm bringing food and water to residents “[they] looked at us like they haven’t seen food in five years.” Schachter was asked by many residents about how they could receive medical attention, medication and access to dialysis machines while trapped in their highrise apartments without working elevators. Before FEMA took over the building’s care a full ten days after the storm hit, one FEMA official told Schachter that he was certain they would find dead bodies inside, as elderly residents inside had no heat, food, or medical care.

Residents of an assisted living facility in Bar Harbor were unable to live there for four months as their facility was flooded with toxic waters. Instead, they were shuttled from one emergency shelter to another. This kind of living situation would be incredibly taxing for anyone, but it was especially so for vulnerable seniors who are in need of constant medical care and attention.

Shockingly and without warning, many of these same seniors, all of whom are on a fixed income, received a bill for some of the relief that FEMA provided over two years ago. The local CBSNews affiliate interviewed several of these seniors,

Following the storm, residents were forced to move to a huge evacuation center set up inside a Brooklyn armory, then live four-to-a-room at a hotel in a crime-plagued neighborhood, then to a halfway house on the grounds of a partly abandoned psychiatric hospital in Queens, where they bunked on cots and were barred from having visitors in their rooms.

Rosenberg claims FEMA workers never explained that the money could only be used for housing.

“Everyone asked, ‘Do we have to pay this back later on? Is it a loan?’ They said, ‘No. It’s a gift from Obama,”’ he said. “If I wasn’t eligible, then why give it to me in the first place? They knew we were living in an adult home. They knew our shelter was being paid for by the state. It’s not like we lied on the application.”

Even worse, Rosenberg told Champion the agency has threatened to take it from Social Security checks if they don’t pay up.

Do you think the seniors should be required to pay up?