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The Recovery Has Just Begun

Joyce A. Thomas, Regional Administrator, Region 2By Joyce Thomas, ACF Regional Administrator, Region 2

Earlier this month the world-famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in midtown Manhattan was lit for all to marvel at its 30,000 multi-colored lights. News crews broadcasted scenes from Rockefeller, along with video of busy shoppers and tourists beaming with holiday spirit throughout Times Square and the Fashion District.

For many, these images brought a sense of reassurance that New York City, along with its neighbors New Jersey and Connecticut, have recovered from Superstorm Sandy. But one only needs to take a short, 20-mile ride to the Rockaways to see the effects of Sandy still plaguing the city that never sleeps.

According to the city of New York, more than 6,000 buildings are in need of repair before they can be habitable again. Structures that didn’t get damaged by the Category 1, gale-force winds of Sandy on Oct. 29 were harmed by the storm surge that wreaked havoc on subways, tunnels and streets. Thousands of people will begin a seventh week displaced from their homes as we enter the holiday season.

Many have found shelter in disaster housing offered by FEMA, in places like a hotel room or an apartment rental.Mark Shriver, Senior Vice President of Save the Children, left foreground listens as a New Jersey child care operator discusses

With less than five percent of available space to reside in New York City (before the storm), the problem of affordable housing in the city has been compounded by Sandy’s destruction.

The Administration for Children and Families is working closely with local, state and federal partners to help individuals and families recover.

From bringing back Head Start and child care centers online so parents can go back to work and/or repair their homes, to providing immediate disaster case management that helps connect the dots to access rebuilding resources, to ensuring the timely delivery of human services at the local level, ACF and its regional staff are on the frontline of a disaster whose recovery has just begun.

These past few weeks, I’ve seen some images that were heartbreaking, but I was inspired by the resilient storm victims, courageous first responders and selfless volunteers who are rallying to help their community.

I spoke with a young mom who was able to escape her home with a few items in plastic bags for herself and her eight-week old infant. She said she is thankful that she and her daughter survived. She knows that she will need to start over, but is optimistic that there will be people there to help her.

ACF officials and Save the Children leaders visit a New Jersey Child Care center.ACF’s New York Regional Office, located at 26 Federal Plaza, 41st floor, is here to serve. The office was closed to the public for eight days after the storm. Staff worked remote during that period. Once the electricity, heat, phone lines, running water and elevators came back on, our dedicated staff members—who also suffered from property damage and personal trauma after the storm—returned to their stations to continue helping ACF meet its mission.

Dozens of ACF personnel from the nine other regions across the United States came to New York City to assist Region 2 in bringing programs back online in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. We are grateful to our fellow staff members for helping us with our immediate needs.

Now more than ever, ACF programs—which have long provided a social safety net for many—will be instrumental in the recovery after Sandy. And Region 2 will be there every step of the way.

For immediate disaster case management help, please contact a disaster case manager at 877-510-6762 or  Phones are answered: Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Joyce A. Thomas is the Regional Administrator for the Administration for Children and Families, Region II, New York, NY. The Region comprises New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In this capacity, Ms. Thomas partners with state, local, community based organizations, and tribes within the Region to promote economic independence and healthy development of children and families.

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