VACAVILLE, CA - Nick and Joanne DeScetto have spent the last four holidays away from home.
The Long Island couple was forced to evacuate their home of 22 years before Hurricane Sandy hit in late October.
"Before we left, we put everything up as high as we could, but we didn't expect it to come up three feet," said Nick DeScetto of the water damage to his house. "The main damage was losing all of the furniture, the appliances, and the boiler. All of the floor tiles, because of the weight of the water."
The DeScettos' house sits along a canal. They have flood insurance with FEMA and wind insurance with a separate company. The wind insurance money came in immediately, but the DeScettos had to put up $70,000 of their own money for repairs. They left their Long Island home after the insurance adjustors inspected the property, and flew out to stay with their daughter in Vacaville.
"We've been living out of two suitcases all of this time," said Joanne DeScetto, who came out to California before Thanksgiving.
The first FEMA check came in, but could only cover 20 percent of the repairs. The check for $21,000 was written out to the DeScettos and their home mortgage bank. The DeScettos thought it was to be a "no red tape" payment.
"The bank when we notified them, refused to sign off on it, saying they first need to see signed contracts, signed receipts before any work was done," Nick DeScetto said. "And then they'll only release 50 percent of the check and they'll keep the rest for whatever reason."
In letters, Champion Mortgage said it doesn't want to be responsible if FEMA made a mistake and gave money for unnecessary repairs, so it's holding the money until all of the construction is done. After a final inspection, the bank will return the second half of the check.
The DeScettos don't understand the bank's policy since insurance inspectors already assessed their property before they ever left the east coast. Their only recourse is to file a complaint with the New York Banking Authority to try to get the funds paid at all at once.
To make matters worse, the DeScettos don't know when the rest of the FEMA money will come in now that Congress went home without voting for relief funds.
"They don't realize what a disaster this was," Nick DeScetto said. "To just let it go like that and that money doesn't come that fast. Everything was in good shape and then you lose it all; you have to rebuild. You're just thankful you still have a home. Some of these people don't have homes."
The DeScettos fly home to Long Island Wednesday night.