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Touro Law Center Still Helping Long Island After Superstorm Sandy

AP Photo/Frank Eltman
Jamilyn Spellman stands outside of the vacant lot in Long Beach, N.Y., where her mother's house once stood. More than 1,000 homeowners in New York and New Jersey are still fighting with the FEMA over insurance payouts from Superstorm Sandy.

Five years ago this Sunday, Hurricane Sandy began to form off the coast of Jamaica. Within a week the hurricane evolved into a deadly and destructive superstorm. In the U.S. alone, it left 157 people dead and caused more than $71 billion in damage.  

On Long Island, an estimated 100,000 homes were severely flooded. About 48 hours after Sandy left New York, Touro Law Center in Central Islip set up a hotline. It offered direction and support for homeowners seeking resources to fix and rebuild their homes. That hotline is now the Disaster Relief Clinic.  

Melissa Luckman, the clinic's director, spoke with All Things Considered Host Bill Buchner earlier today via Skype. He began by asking her about the main needs of Long Island residents affected by Superstorm Sandy.

The majority of our work has been in the realm of FEMA insurance assistance. So we provided assistance to homeowners in completing a supplemental flood insurance claim. We took homeowners through the litigation process. We attend cases in federal court, which we have since settled. And then we were actually part of the FEMA review process, which is just closing down in the next week or so. So FEMA flood insurance has always been at the forefront.

I'd say the secondary issues was assistance with the New York Rising Program, which is the state-run grant program, which has been very confusing for homeowners so we provide assistance with that program as well. And then we see some other issues such as contractor disputes, we provide assistance with mortgage modifications for homeowners who need that assistance, or any other storm-related legal issues that a homeowner should run into.

How has the work of the clinic changed since when it first began in 2012? 

The types of cases we’ve seen have really remained constant, it’s just the intake. So, at certain periods of time over the last five years, when there’s deadlines in the New York Rising Program, we always see an uptake in intakes or homeowners calling for assistance with New York Rising. With FEMA closing down the review process, or other statute of limitation issues that we seen with, you know, FEMA flood lawsuits, we’ve always seen an uptake in those cases as well. I will tell you that contractor reviews have become a very, very big issue. Many, many homeowners are dealing with some type of contractor fraud at this point in time. 

Do you see a need for your clinic to expand beyond those affected by Sandy?

I would love to see our clinic expand beyond Sandy. The way that our funding is actually set up, our clinic, it is geared towards direct Sandy services. But I do do a lot of work out-of-state, and provide guidance and assistance to other states when they’ve had disasters. So, as a director of the program, you know, I was able to go down to Texas a few weeks ago and provide some assistance with Hurricane Harvey. I was down in Baton Rouge in October, trying to assist their state program get up-and-running. So we try to provide as much information and education to other states and territories in the times of disasters, it’s just  our direct services are geared towards Superstorm Sandy.

Have you been involved in efforts to help those in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands?

We are working hand-in-hand with the University of Puerto Rico Law School to provide assistance to those affected in Puerto Rico. The school actually just invited nine students here with us. They just came up this past weekend; they were students at the University of Puerto Rico Law School. We’re providing them with housing, law school classes, so you know, we’re trying to help their students. And in the near future, I will be providing some training sessions for attorneys who are gonna be providing pro bono assistance down in Puerto Rico as well.

Professor Melissa Luckman is the director of the Disaster Relief Clinic at Touro Law Center on Long Island. Thank you for talking with us today.

Thank you so much for having me.

Bill began his radio journey on Long Island, followed by stops in Schenectady, Bridgeport, Boston and New York City. He’s glad to be back on the air in Fairfield County, where he has lived with his wife and two sons for more than 20 years.
Ann is an editor and senior content producer with WSHU, including the founding producer of the weekly talk show, The Full Story.