Waiting for the Rolls

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Nothing has been quite the same since September 11, and the city’s Human Resource Administration is no exception. Two weeks after the attack, a new kind of clientele filled the line snaking outside the welfare agency’s headquarters at 180 Water Street, home to the newly opened Disaster Assistance Benefits Center.

For many, the trip marked their first time applying for public assistance. Unknown to them, the challenges they faced that day were typical experiences for welfare applicants. “This is just a big headache,” says Lisseth McFarlane, 26, who worked as a security officer in the basement of the Trade Center. After waiting eight hours for help the Friday before, she was told she needed a letter from a landlord, a pay stub or ID from the World Trade Center to qualify for benefits. So the next day, she had to start from square one, back in line, with several other Twin Towers workers, from custodians to office temps, on their second day of waiting.

To deal with the crunch–the center saw more than 200 people in its first week of operation–on top of its regular public assistance caseload, HRA has deployed some staff from other job centers to work at Water Street and at the temporary centers in Queens and midtown Manhattan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and the Consortium for Worker Education are providing the rest of the new manpower. And clients are just dealing with the crowds. “We don’t want to be here,” said one employee of U.S. Customs based in 6 World Trade Center, who declined to be named. “But we need some form of help.”

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