Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

FEMA Extends Air Filter Program
By Graham Rayman, Newsday Staff Writer, September 30, 2002

The FEMA program that reimburses for air filters, purifiers, vacuums and air conditioners purchased by those affected by the World Trade Center attack was scheduled to end today but has been extended to the end of January.

While the city's 3.2 million households are eligible to seek reimbursements for $1,600 in such expenses, just 1,744 air conditioners, 2,821 air purifiers, 1,680 vacuum cleaners and 2,128 air filters have been purchased through the program, the largest portion in Manhattan, officials said.

Facing a backlog of more than 35,000 pending applications, the Federal Emergency Management Agency program was extended at the recommendation of the state, which covers one-quarter of the cost, officials said. It began as a response to concerns about dust contamination in homes and businesses as a result of the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Reimbursement for the household items is only one piece of the broad assistance available. The larger program covers expenses for transportation, housing, personal belongings, medical or dental costs and funerals. As of Sept. 18, the state Department of Labor said 65,741 people had applied for aid available under the program, with 8,233 receiving $10.1 million in all.

The average grant was $1,227, but figures show the reimbursement for household items was not widely tapped. But that could change, given the extension. "We have to go through a vetting process, but we're trying to reduce the caseload as quickly as possible," said Robert Lillpopp, a Labor Department spokesman. "We feel that in the end, the percentage of people who are approved will be greater than at the beginning of the process."

Some observers blame the program for the low participation rate. "The whole idea that people had to go out and buy a vacuum cleaner first and bring in a receipt was a bureaucratic labyrinth," said Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. "The problem was a maldistribution of benefits, and they overlooked the most important needs."

LaVerna Bradley, 71, of Alfred E. Smith Houses on the Lower East Side, could not readily leave her apartment to buy the equipment, as she has nagging pain in her arms and legs, and her husband, Arthur, has Parkinson's disease. "I got the filters and it took two months, but I didn't get the vacuum and I didn't get a new air conditioner," she said. "Someone delivered the filters. I'm just not able to get out to get those other things. I still have dust in the apartment. I think that's what's bothering my throat."

Lillpopp said the program has been well advertised, and up-front grants are available to hardship cases. He noted that the Labor Department distributed 500,000 palm cards and put up 10,000 posters in English, Chinese and Spanish, informing residents of how to apply. It also ran full-page ads, he said.


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