The Unitarian Church of Staten Island welcomed Sandy victims, relief groups and community members Wednesday for a State of the State viewing party. The event was put on as a Staten Island Clergy Leadership long-term recovery meeting. The groups gathered to discuss rebuilding efforts and watch Cuomo’s Speech.
In his address, the governor outlined a multi-faceted response to Sandy and the threat of future, intense storms because of climate change. But his proposals focused on reducing the state's carbon footprint and preparing for the next disaster by updating building codes, hardening infrastructure and improving emergency response.
For victims of Sandy, the governor's lone proposal was a call for a program to buy out property owners who don't want to rebuild in vulnerable areas. Cuomo offered few specifics.
Many of the audience members were disappointed by how brief Cuomo was when discussing Sandy. Karen Jackson, the Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Project Hospitality, said she wanted the governor to mention more specific plans.
"I wish he would have talked a little about the specific things he was going to do for people impacted by Sandy," Jackson said. "I was a little surprised that he didn’t talk more about the storm. It seems like he was more focused on job creation."
Many of the attendees were members of The Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, a collection of community, labor, faith and environmental justice organizations. The alliance says it aims to convince politicians to support an equitable and sustainable relief and rebuilding effort.
Members of the alliance looked to the State of the State as an opportunity for governor Cuomo to show his support for their ideals. Many of the alliance members felt the governor focused too much on what had been done, and not enough on what needed to be done.
During his discussion of the Hurricane, Cuomo paid recognition to the National Guard. "If you ask any community… ‘Who, or what was the core of the rescue operation?’ they will say nine times out of 10, the National Guard," the governor said in his address. "The National Guard was our main asset in providing recovery to communities all across this state."
This comment was met with laughter and disapproval from the Staten Island audience. Jessica Carmona said she most residents would not agree with governor Cuomo.
"We were surprised that he said that most of the help regarding Hurricane Sandy came from the National Guard," Carmona said. "Anyone who’s been involved with the movement knows that the majority of help that people have received has come from volunteers, friends and family."
Many of the community members in attendance were victims of Hurricane Sandy and had been directly impacted by a lack of government help. Maria Raquel Sanchez is an undocumented immigrant who lost everything in the storm. After losing her home and job, Sanchez moved into an apartment, but is struggling to pay the rent. Sanchez says she has not been able to receive government aide through FEMA because she is not a citizen.
Jackson said the government needs to reach out to the many who are falling through the cracks.
"We're not getting the translation services we need, especially to the Russian and polish communities, and we have such a large undocumented population that’s getting no support at all," Jackson said. "[We need] more information [distributed] to individual households and in additional languages."