Low-income New Yorkers could get emergency cash after flooding

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A teenager cleans water out from a car in a flooded Queens neighborhood that saw massive flooding and numerous deaths following a night of heavy wind and rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ida on September 03, 2021 in New York City.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

New York City has introduced a new pilot program that will help residents from lower-income communities recover more quickly from major flooding events.

The program, launched by the non-profit groups Center for NYC Neighborhoods (CNYCN) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), will provide up to $1.1 million in emergency spending to low and moderate income households hit by flooding.

The program is designed in part to help frontline communities get quicker relief after climate-related disasters and make up for an often slow and complex payout process from private insurance providers or the federal government.

To be eligible for grants, a homeowner must live in a one-to-four-unit home and have a household income that is no more than 165% of the city’s area median income.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers reside in low-lying neighborhoods where climate change has prompted rising sea levels, worsening coastal storms and more frequent flood events. Rising tides and more frequent storms in New York City will put up to $242 billion of real estate at risk of coastal flooding by the 2050s, according to a report by the city’s comptroller.

Studies show that low-income communities and communities of color recover more slowly from disasters than wealthier ones, and that white Americans often receive more federal disaster aid than people of color — even when the level of damage is the same.

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“Our challenges in disaster recovery are big. Low-income households are not getting sufficient resources in a timely manner, which leads to downward financial spirals,” Carolyn Kousky, associate vice president for economics and policy at the EDF, told CNBC.

“I think of this pilot as one of many potential creative ways we can start improving equity and recovery,” Kousky said.

Households could receive as much as $15,000 in grant money within days of a flood. The program doesn’t have limits on how households can use the funding they receive.

“Extreme flooding and natural disasters often impact traditionally marginalized communities the most, as they have little to no savings and are often denied post-disaster loans, while federal funding is typically insufficient or extremely delayed,” said CNYCN CEO and Executive Director Christie Peale.

“This innovative program is designed to stimulate real change in providing immediate access to funds that help build towards recovery,” Peale said.

In partnership with data technology firm ICEYE, the insurance firm Swiss Re Corporate Solutions will assess the intensity of the flooding that was triggered by the weather event in order to settle claims.

The company will determine the percentage of each neighborhood that falls within the flooded area and the severity of damage within days. It will process a payment to CNYCN, which will then distribute grants to households that apply for assistance.

The $52.6 billion plan to save the NYC region from climate change

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