By KATIE ZEZIMA and MEGHAN BARR
TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ Diane Burstein spends her days sifting through apartment listings and disaster paperwork and her nights lying awake with worry, her daughter and grandson sleeping feet from her in a cramped hotel room.
The family has nowhere else to go. Three months after Superstorm Sandy destroyed their apartment, the Bursteins are among at least 3,500 families displaced by the storm in New York and New Jersey who have been living in hotels and motels, sometimes bouncing to a different room as reservations for weddings, parties and conferences eat up hotel space.
Their hotel stays â¿¿ funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency â¿¿ expire every two weeks, leaving them in a constant state of anxiety over whether they'll be pushed out onto the street.
"I'm panicking. I just panic," said Burstein, who is staying at a hotel in Toms River. "I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack."
The next deadline is Saturday, when families will learn whether they must pack their bags and check out. The program has been extended in New York and New Jersey until Feb. 9, but individual families are still waiting to hear whether they will be allowed to stay because claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
According to FEMA, people are no longer eligible for hotel assistance if they have received rental assistance, have a viable housing option or an insurance settlement, or can return to a repaired home.
For storm victims with no other housing options, the anxiety is palpable. Most spend their days on the phone with a never-ending stream of federal agencies, contractors and insurance agents, struggling to sort out the housing mess Sandy left behind.
"What happens if you don't have the money to fix your home?" wondered Ayanna Diego, who is holed up at a hotel near LaGuardia Airport with her mother, 17-year-old son and 12-year-old niece. "It's an issue."