Lack Of Specifics Regarding Required Documents Leads To Confusion

ISLAND PARK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) –– Thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Sandy are still relying on federal rental assistance.

But one Long Island couple said a cryptic application process is preventing some from getting the money they need to survive.

Mike and Gabrielle Fehling’s Island Park house will eventually be demolished and rebuilt.

In the meantime, they’re renting an apartment and relying on Federal Emergency Management Agency rental assistance to pay for it, but said they have endured weeks of frustration and they still haven’t received the money.

“It’s just a grueling process, trying to get all those papers to FEMA,” Gabrielle Fehling told CBS 2’s Amy Dardashtian on Thursday.

The application forms require the Fehlings to submit extensive documentation — much of which was destroyed by Sandy.

“Trying to get all that information that you need to give to them, you have to get it by other means,” Gabrielle Fehling said.

And the form doesn’t specify what type of documentation is required. It only asks for documentation that is “verifiable.”

“It’s a hard process to know exactly the paperwork that they want,” Mike Fehling said.

The Fehlings said FEMA never seems to be satisfied with what they send. To show proof of income, they sent tax returns. Weeks later, FEMA asked for pay stubs, but the Fehlings are self-employed. They run a kayak business from home.

Now as they try to get it back up and running, they are unemployed and FEMA wants them to prove it.

“Rent’s due and you don’t have any and you don’t know whether you’re gonna be getting the assistance or not,” Mike Fehling said.

People who need rental assistance must reapply every few months. In a statement, FEMA told CBS 2, applicants must prove that money they’ve received was spent solely on rent.

FEMA said it informs people they must also provide “pay stubs to verify income…and a copy of their lease” along with proof of all “pre-disaster and current expenses.”

It is a process the couple said is full of red tape and lacking in compassion.

FEMA said it has dispersed $147 million in rental assistance to Nassau County households.

For assistance filling out FEMA applications you can call FEMA’s toll-free helpline at 800-621-3362, or (TTY) 800-462-7585 or check the FEMA website for a list of local disaster recovery centers.

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