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Community News: Mid-City

KOREATOWN : Riot Survey Finds Pessimism Prevails

March 14, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

A survey of more than 1,200 Korean-American merchants whose businesses were damaged or destroyed during last spring's riots found that only 28% have reopened their stores and many remain pessimistic about their ability to rebuild.

The survey by the Korean American Inter-Agency Council, a consortium of nine community groups, also included Korean-Americans employees who worked in damaged or destroyed businesses. The 1,539 respondents represents about 72% of the 2,130 victims, employees and merchants identified by the Koreatown Emergency Relief Committee.

"A lot of Korean-American victims are falling through the cracks in the system," said Bong Hwan Kim, executive director of the Korean Youth & Community Center, a member of the consortium.

Kim said that while most federal disaster programs were initially well used and accessible to Korean-American victims, bureaucratic rules and inadequate Korean-language assistance has frustrated many victims and hampered recovery efforts.

Owners of businesses that were destroyed still lack the resources or permission to rebuild and are among the 63% yet to reopen. About 9% of the merchants said they have found other occupations.

Only 11% of the merchants surveyed owned the property on which their businesses were located. The majority of merchants are tenants who must rely on the property owners to rebuild destroyed structures.

The survey found high approval rates for applications for assistance from the Small Business Assn. and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but miscommunication and red tape have slowed the distribution of funds, Kim said.

Local government programs--such as Medi-Cal, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, General Relief and food stamps--were found to have provided little assistance; most victims were ruled ineligible because of their income levels before the riots, Kim said.

Survey respondents identified mortgage and rental assistance their greatest needs. Mental health problems among riot victims are a growing concern, Kim said.

According to other findings of the survey:

* 65% of the Korean-American small-business owners were uninsured and the policies of many who were insured proved inadequate or invalid;

* 54% said they were having a difficult or very difficult time financially;

* 49% said they felt pessimistic or hopeless about rebuilding;

* 82% said their limited English made it difficult to get the help they needed.

The survey's results confirm the findings of a smaller survey of 500 victims released in December.

The interagency council's case managers are providing referrals, translation assistance and other services for nearly 500 victims and plan to work with all others who need help. The council is funded by a $175,000 FEMA grant.

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