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by Dorothy Callaci | December 6, 2012 New York Teacher issue
A Hurricane Sandy hotline is now part of the UFT’s continuing and expanding outreach to members who need assistance in the wake of the devastating late-October storm.
Teams of trained UFT staffers field questions at the Hurricane Sandy hotline — a clearinghouse for information at 1-212-701-9611 — from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday, and follow up on voicemail messages left after hours or to questions sent by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A FEMA consultant also provides technical assistance at the hotline and has provided training in FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program to members of the UFT’s Health and Safety Department so that they can respond to member questions with solid and accurate information.
With time, the needs of the thousands of UFT members severely affected — the UFT has used computer models and mapping to identify 10,200 members who lived in the mandatory evacuation zone — have changed. In the beginning, the union stepped up to provide immediate necessities like blankets, water, food and warm clothes in the hard-hit neighborhoods and reached out to every member who filled out an online UFT Urgent Assistance Form.
“They’ve been through so much; there have been so many heartbreaking stories,” said UFT Special Representative Joe Colletti, one of about 20 UFT staffers who have been calling members who asked for urgent assistance. “We’re doing what we can to support them and arm them with the right information and phone numbers so they can get assistance from FEMA and other agencies.”
Members who call the Sandy hotline receive information about the process of filing FEMA and insurance claims and about available programs, as well as help accessing information and support from other agencies.
The hotline also provides information about hurricane-related school absences and the appeals process, counseling, child care and accessing medical, legal and housing support.
Junior Linton, the UFT’s safety and health coordinator, described the importance of the union’s hotline.
“While most of our members know how to apply for insurance, for the most part our members don’t necessarily understand FEMA and its process,” Linton said. “But the most important thing is to assure them that the union is there to help them with FEMA.”
Citing the magnitude of the devastation and the 70,000 students displaced from their home schools, union officials warned that it would take time to solve all the problems Hurricane Sandy has left in its wake.
Because the needs of members are still so great, the union continues to seek monetary donations to the UFT Disaster Relief Fund online at www.uft.org/donate or by check payable to the UFT Disaster Relief Fund, c/o Karen Alford, UFT, 52 Broadway, 14th Floor, New York, NY 10004.