NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi brought a message of solidarity and financial help to members in the flood-ravaged Southern Tier Monday, and is sending a continued appeal to NYSUT sisters and brothers throughout the state about the need to help storm victims.
Iannuzzi offered encouragement and compassion to NYSUT members in the communities of Owego, Binghamton, Vestal and Johnson City, areas hard hit by floods from tropical storms Irene and Lee. Iannuzzi said he wanted to visit the ongoing disaster scene to better convey to locals around the state about how they can help. He had visited parts of the region in 2006 during severe floods.
His main suggestion Monday to those who want to do something: Contribute to the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund.
"Seeing this allows us to really show to the rest of our sisters and brothers around the state the extent of the damage, so they will contribute to the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund," Iannuzzi said during his stop in Owego, Broome County, where an estimated 75 percent of residents suffered damage to homes or businesses from last month's flooding.
For information on the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, go to nysut.org, and click on the link for "Member Center" on the left side of the home page. [link]
Iannuzzi said his discussions with flood victims also gave him ideas for other ways the union can help.
NYSUT retiree and Owego resident Reathea Woodburn, for example, told Iannuzzi that when her home was mostly under water and she could not use her landline telphone, she ended up with an $880 cell phone bill. Woodburn, who retired in June from the Owego-Apalachin TA, said she knows of other families facing a similar quandary, including some whose utility bills include charges for when their homes have been uninhabitable.
"We should think about reaching out to either the governor or the Legislature to see if they could get the utilities to work with people, or at least work differently," Iannuzzi said, pledging to follow up on that question.
Iannuzzi's tour also included a stop at NYSUT's regional office in Vestal, where Staples has donated 600 bags of supplies for teachers and students; and a visit to the Owego Elementary School and the MacArthur Elmentary School in Binghamton. Both are closed for cleanup.
He also met with NYSUT members from the Johnson City Employees Association, many of whom volunteered in a shelter even as they had to flee their own homes. There, Iannuzzi learned that most of these members do not have flood insurance, because they are so far removed from the traditional flood plain in the region. He presented a check from the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund to member Joan Berdine, the vice president of the local, whose home was heavily damaged.
Carolyn Toner, the president of the local, said the task now is to help members understand that they will not compromise assistance from FEMA if they also apply for help from NYSUT through the Disaster Relief Fund. Iannuzzi reiterated that message.
"If you apply for some other kind of disaster relief fund, we'll make sure we're not complicating that application," Iannuzzi told members.