On April 28, 2015, the Disaster Relief Clinic traveled to Washington DC as they were invited to participate in the first meeting of the Sandy Task Force to examine problems within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) arising in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and develop recommendations for short- and long-term fixes.
Members of the task force include the four Senators from New Jersey and New York, their staff, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, FEMA officials, outside experts, Sandy victims, and other stakeholders. Participating in the meeting were: Sens. Menendez, Booker, Schumer and Gillibrand; FEMA Admin. Fugate; Assistant Professor Benjamin Rajotte, Touro Law School (N.Y.); Executive Dir. Sue Marticek, Ocean County (N.J.) Long-term Recovery Group; George Kasimos, founder of Sandy victims’ advocacy group “Stop FEMA Now”; and Assistant General Manager Denise Neibel, Breezy Point (N.Y.) Cooperative.
Along with the Clinic Staff came two clinic students Whitney Steiner and Ambika Raghunandan, who were able to experience the Sandy Task Force meeting first-hand.
Ms. Raghunandan expressed that in the midst of all the chaos between Hurricane Sandy victims and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there seems to be some hope for those that have been left homeless or those struggling to keep their home because they have depleted all or most of their savings in order to hold on to their property; or what is left of it.
Recognition from both the Senate and FEMA proves that Touro Law Center’s Disaster Relief Clinic has played an important role in seeking justice for homeowners who truly deserve it and who have been inundated with circular answers to their concerns. We have forced a “meeting of the minds” to create a system that works equally for the people and the government in times of crisis. The not-for-profit community, especially Touro’s Disaster Relief Clinic should be held in high regard. Benjamin Rajotte, Melissa Luckman, and Dan Strafer, all attorneys who go above and beyond for their clients’ best interests, have propelled Touro’s Disaster Relief Clinic into national reverence.
Clinic student Whitney Steiner describes her “trip to Washington D.C. with the Disaster Relief Clinic was by far the cherry on top of an amazing clinical experience”. It is not every day you are handed the opportunity to meet four U.S. senators, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (“FEMA”) Administrator and Deputy Associate Administrator for Insurance, and several representatives from other non-profit groups united in the common goal of resolving what many have referred to as the “storm after the storm.” The meeting itself was a true learning experience. Having spent the semester with the Clinic researching the issues discussed, looking for possible solutions, and assisting Sandy victims in a virtual tug-of-war over funds wrongfully denied, recouped, or in dispute with various parties, I was fascinated to see it fuse into one bitter-sweet conversation pushing towards a solution. Looking around the room, I saw mixed emotions such as tears streaming down victims’ faces, heads alternating between nods and shaking in disagreement, and occasional bursts of excitement as hope for relief seeped in.
The meeting also induced a revelation of how important the work done by the Disaster Relief Clinic really is, receiving praise from the senators as well as from FEMA. I am not only proud and honored to have been a part of this experience, but extremely thankful that I was given such an opportunity. After spending a semester working with this group of individuals and seeing them in action during our trip to D.C., I can describe them as no less than assets to the Touro Law Center learning experience. It is her hope that the incoming Disaster Relief Clinic students will take advantage of opportunities such as this and have the chance to see that the hard work they do is worth the reward of helping those in need.
— Melissa H. Luckman, Staff Attorney