Emeterio Rodriguez, 80, left, and Juan Troche Rivera, 82, are struggling to afford to replace food they lost after Hurricane Sandy. Photos by Sam Spokony
BY SAM SPOKONY | Some Downtown residents and business owners say they feel deceived by both Con Edison and Borough President Scott Stringer in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, because of confusion over Con Ed reimbursement claim forms that were handed out at informational meetings after the storm.
Virtually everyone who lost power after the storm also lost food that spoiled due to the lack of electricity. While Con Ed has clearly stated, on numerous occasions, that it does not pay claims for loss of food that occurred as a result of natural disasters, many people unwittingly filled out Con Ed claim forms for food spoilage because those forms were distributed at emergency relief sessions held in Chinatown and the Lower East Side in the weeks after Sandy struck.
At a press conference last Friday, at the headquarters of the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association on Grand St., residents and business owners said that it was members of Stringer’s office who gave them the allegedly confusing forms.
“It seems like they were lying to the community,” said Mei Rong Song, who owns New Chinatown Snack, at 26 E. Broadway, adding that she also represented other small businesses in that area.
A Stringer spokesperson denied that the borough president brought the forms to any informational meetings, and claimed that other members of his office actually began removing the forms once they began circulating.
The spokesperson pointed out that, along with elected officials, representatives of several city and federal agencies were also present at the post-Sandy relief sessions.
Nevertheless, the residents and business owners still believe they were misled, and they called on Stringer and other elected officials to help clarify the situation.
“We got the forms from Scott Stringer’s office, but now Con Ed said they’re not taking responsibility for it, so do we fill it out, or do we not fill it out?” said Wah Lee, a C.S.W.A. representative. “Who is responsible for the impact of this disaster on our community?”
JoAnn Lum, a representative of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, said that, over the past couple of weeks, hundreds of people have called community organizations in the area with questions about the confusing forms.
Lee, Lum and others at Friday’s press conference also called on Con Ed to change its policy about spoiled food reimbursement, even though the utility company has already publicly refused to do that.
A Con Ed spokesperson noted that the reimbursement form in question — which allows for claims of up to $450 for spoiled food — includes a disclaimer stating that no claims will be paid in the case of power outages resulting from natural disasters. But the spokesperson added that the forms are made available, in hard copies as well as online, because the company will always accept claim forms even if those claims are unlikely to be paid.
While the money lost by individual residents on spoiled food is obviously very small compared to the many other losses suffered as a result of Sandy, that money can make a huge difference to elderly Downtown residents who rely on Social Security checks for their income.
Emeterio Rodriguez, who lives with his wife, who like him is 80, on Jackson St., said that he lost around $200 worth of food — and since he didn’t have any extra money saved up before the storm, he still hasn’t been able to replace the spoiled goods.
“My fridge is empty,” Rodriguez said. “Two hundred dollars is a lot of money to me, because now I have no more left to buy stuff.”
Juan Troche Rivera, 82, who lives farther Downtown on Pearl St., said he lost about $300 worth of food, and is now facing similar problems. He was able to buy new food once his Social Security checks arrived, Rodriguez explained, but the added expense was a huge burden because he also has to constantly take care of his 80-year-old wife, who is sick.
“I’ve started shopping again to replace what was lost, but it’s been going slowly, little by little,” he said.
Both men added that they are now struggling because they are forced to pay higher prices at the supermarket due to high demand for food in the aftermath of the storm.
“You’re trying to replace the food you lost, and when you go to buy a $2 bottle of milk, now it costs $6,” Rivera said. “That might not sound like a big deal, but it makes a huge difference for us.”