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economic justice | government | katrina aftermath

Getting Your FEMA Money

Getting the money FEMA promises in emergencies can be a nightmare. This article discusses how one mother got her FEMA check out of the government after the Northridge earthquake and offers practical advice for others in a similar situation now regarding Katrina.
Getting Your FEMA Money
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)

We can all see that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a bumbling bureaucratic nightmare. So if you think it will be easy for Katrina survivors to get personal emergency aid from an agency that wastes tens of thousands of dollars sending trucks of ice anywhere but where it is needed, you are nuts. My experience as a poor person in America is that you will have to FIGHT for any help from the government, even in an emergency. This American government needs every cent it has for its high paid white businessmen, for Blue Angels to perform in our skies, for warring in the Middle East, and for outrageous pay to agencies with unknown responsibilities, such as the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. The American government does not now, nor has it ever, cared about its poor. If it had, there would not have been poor people homeless and hungry on American streets every night in every U.S. city, PRIOR to the Katrina disaster. Thus, this article is about how to PRY your federal aid money out of the American government, if you are a Katrina survivor.

My 9 year old son and I ran out of a collapsing apartment building in Northridge, Ca. in 1994 with only the clothing on our back, at 4 am in the morning. When the quake hit, our building began twisting and made moaning noises that alarmed us, as sheets of glass kept crashing into the streets outside. We bolted from our apartment, fearing for our lives. Indeed about 4 blocks away, an entire apartment building just like ours collapsed killing many inside in 14 seconds. I got my son and myself out in 16 seconds from our apartment. We were lucky. But as I stood in the dark, on the street, in front of my collapsed apartment building, with no shoes, no ID, no money, and no way to leave sans walking in underwear and a t-shirt, things got really confusing.

In little time, the Red Cross bought us some clothing and food. And FEMA promised to help us with relocation costs. Yet even putting in a claim with FEMA became a fight for the fittest, which is not how it should be. I called FEMA every single day, several times a day, to finally get intake. In the end, a FEMA agent literally met me in a van, on the side of an I-5 offramp in Los Angeles, to do my intake. They told me to meet them on the side of the road, and I took a strong male with me, fearing foul play and physical danger from FEMA agents. The FEMA agent had me get into his private van with only me and him inside, where he had a laptop, and that is where I processed my FEMA claim finally. In a strange man's van on the side of the road. Not very professional. Seems in the 10 years since that Northridge quake, FEMA has taken in LOTS of funding, yet are still a barely functioning mess.

Even after putting in a FEMA claim at the offramp, FEMA was useless. Finally the Red Cross helped us get from Ca. (where I was attending school) back to Seattle, my home base. I tried to call the California hotlines that FEMA had set up for the earthquake the whole time I was in Ca. waiting to leave, and finally realized I would need to pursue FEMA from Seattle, as they were not moving fast enough to help with the immediate problems of housing, clothing, water, food and relocation. The Red Cross, state agencies, and the National Guard, were on the scene throughout the days following the quake, but FEMA's presence was missing. Just like in Katrina. I am not sure why Americans give millions of dollars to FEMA instead of the Red Cross, at this point. It is the Red Cross that is taking care of America's survivors of natural disasters in the immediate aftermath, each and every time, NEVER FEMA.

So in Seattle, I was still battling for rent money from FEMA. And I called the lines they told us to call for the Ca. disaster daily to try to get my money for rent. My son and I stayed with friends as I tried endlessly to find the FEMA funding they had promised. Finally, I had had enough. I decided that since FEMA was a national agency, that I was wasting time calling the lines set up specifically for the Northridge disaster. I decided to call Wa. D.C. directly and ask for the head of FEMA. I called FEMA first, and asked who the director of FEMA was. It was James Witt. Then I called back, and asked for him by name as if I was told to call him. They put me right through to him! I told him I had been waiting for months for my FEMA check for my family to get housing and I could not keep waiting. He Fed Ex'ed my FEMA check to me overnight. I was shocked and stunned.

There is a big lesson there. Do not waste your time on those crowded lines FEMA sends panicked masses to in a disaster. Call the Wa. D.C. offices (even collect if you have to) and start finding out who is in charge of your check and pursue them relentlessly. I have found this method to be most effective. The minute I start to get lost in bureaucracy, the first thing I do is find out who is IN CHARGE, personally, of the agency. And I begin going to them for accountability directly, surpassing the lower level workers with no accountability. Finding housing and survival funding after a disaster is not a joke. And if those fat cats need to be called in their own offices, where they sit comfortably in Washington, then so be it. Make it easier for them to get your money to you, than it is for them to deal with you calling every single day in desperation and urgent need.

The other thing I recommend is using your elected officials and representatives. This is easiest if you were removed from the central disaster zone as outside officials are not as impacted and overloaded. Once you know who the head of the agency that is supposed to help you is, such as FEMA's director, call every one of your elected officials EVERY SINGLE MORNING with the name and phone number of that person in charge who is not getting you your money. You need to call every single government official you can where you are right now. Start with the state and federal legislators and representatives, senators, governors... call them all with the same complaint every single morning until you are dealt with. You will get further calling elected officials than you will calling the FEMA hotline daily.

My experience is that if you circumnavigate past the field workers to the top brass of the agencies, and if you call your local officials daily to tell them you STILL do not have relocation monies, you will get action 100% faster than those who sit quietly waiting endlessly on faith for FEMA to actually work. Make a noise. Enlist local officials in your fight. Get names of the people in charge of agencies neglecting you and pursue them. With a government as inept and corrupt as the American government, you need to make a noise to not just be swept under the rug. FEMA, and the American government do not care about the poor, or they would deal with the ever growing class chasm and skyrocketing rates of hungry and homeless folks in America. They do not care about the poor before OR after natural disasters. You can force the issue if you qualify for FEMA aid after Katrina, but they will make you work for that FEMA aid. Make them work for you, as they are supposed to, instead. Call every official watchdog you can to alert them to your situation. It is the only way to penetrate those agencies in my experience.

homepage: homepage: http://www.kirstenanderberg.com

About my friend... 19.Sep.2005 19:12

free human being

I have a friend from New Orleans who came here to Oregon after the Hurricane. She contacted FEMA for the emergency funding and guess what they told her...
She has to apply for a personal lone through a financial institution and only then can she be considered for the emergency $2000 funding. Once she is denied she can then and only then apply for it. What a crack of s&@%.

She does not even have underwear or sox, lost her job and her place and most of her belongings, she was forced to relocate and lives day by day from the good will of others and that is the best they can come up with? This is a joke. They only gave out those debit card like things for one day two weeks ago and they run out on the same day. After that they told people they need to apply. So now everyone is at the mercy of FEMA's bureaucracy.

Shame America. Number 1???? Richest country in the world???? Yeah, right. I can see how it got rich. By stepping on the poor all the time. Shame on you America...

tell her to call waSH DC 19.Sep.2005 20:16


I am serious when I say she needs to call the Fed office of FEMA in Wa dc and complain to the head of FEMA...And also call the legislators in oregon DAILY until they get your friend money. That is one way others can help, dial and hound FEMA and government officials FOR the survivors...

may god bless and keep you 11.Oct.2005 12:45

ingrid harrell ingrid819@msn.com

me and my family was out of lights for three days and we lost a lot of meat. we thought we would never
get our lights back on. but we did. we feel for those people who lost everything that they ever had. but life goes on and you just have to make a brand new start for you and your love ones. we hope that everything do work out for the new orleans people.

4511 kilkenny dr.

Just stuck out to dry 30.Oct.2005 16:09

KISHA dkishadavis@aol.com

this is coming out the mouth of a katrina survivor.my family and i are living everyday thanking god for our lives, but still waiting on fema.one call to fema you'll have something in the mail and the next day your case is still pending.what i want to know is pending on what? pending on rather i give up or if i hound you.

wheres our fema check 01.Dec.2005 18:59

lost and confused spotsgirlsx2@aol.com

i am 13 years old and i live in a 2 bedroom apartment with 6 other people. My dad sister grandma stepmom and 2 stepsisters. we didnt get that much damage but we still lost stuff. we lived in the apartment before the storm except my grandma she had to move in with us afterwards because her other 2 sons and a friend of theirs now live there with about 6 cats and 2 dogs. and they have all been sick and my grandma has too. one of my uncles almost got his hand cut off and my 3 year old stepsister got bit ont he face by a dog my grandma just had ANOHTER surgery and i was recently put in the hospital with the katrina virus. and a lot of other things have been going on also. we have been fighting with fema for about 2 months and had to complete the same applacations twice and they keep losing them. have you noticed that the honest good people that actually should get the checks first are the last ones to get them if they even get them at all? what is up with fema? when are we going to get our check?