More than 50 business owners demonstrated in front of the Los Angeles field office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency last week in protest of disaster relief policies for victims of the spring riots.
Protesters outside the FEMA office at 3407 W. 6th St. said the agency has unfairly denied aid to disaster relief applicants in the wake of the April-May riots.
The Tuesday protest was organized by Urban Recovery Legal Assistance, an offshoot of Public Counsel, a Pico-Union-based public interest law firm. Protesters, many of whom claimed they lost their businesses during the riots, said that FEMA has failed to notify victims of available benefits and has not responded to many applicants.
They also said that FEMA officials have insisted on documentation of business sales records even after they were told that records were lost in riot-related fires.
"We feel like we have been forgotten," said Maria Ramirez, a South Los Angeles resident who lost her Pico-Union clothing store during the riots. "We want justice. We want FEMA to deliver the relief they promised us after the disturbances."
At a news conference, Ramirez claimed FEMA unfairly denied her disaster assistance after the loss of her business, Mari's Boutique, because she has a part-time job with Construction Inc., a Los Angeles-based construction company.
Lorri L. Jean, FEMA's deputy regional director based in San Francisco, said Ramirez was denied temporary disaster assistance because records showed she held a full-time job with Construction Inc. before the riots. Under the Individual Family Grants program, the agency would have paid Ramirez's mortgage for up to 18 months if she had no other source of income.
"This is a situation where certain advocate groups want us to give out money solely on people's words," Jean said. "We cannot responsibly do that."
Dominique Shelton, Ramirez's lawyer, disputed FEMA's allegations. Shelton said that although Ramirez is listed as a full-time employee of Construction Inc., she has worked limited hours due to stress-related illnesses since the riots.
"We deny that was her primary source of income; that is why she asked for FEMA assistance," Shelton said.