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15 Jun 2015

Menendez: flood insurance review designed to be efficient, fair

Sen. Robert Menendez had a message Monday for an audience of Sandy survivors skeptical about reopening their flood insurance claims: the process is designed to be both efficient and fair.

“I believe this is an opportunity to get it right this time, and to put money in people’s pockets who deserve it,” said Menendez, D-N.J. He was speaking at a forum sponsored by Legal Services of New Jersey and Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, two groups that offer free legal help to storm victims who are considering whether to participate in the flood insurance review process.

“You deserve an insurance system that works for you. You deserve better,” Menendez told an audience of Sandy survivors and nonprofit employees.

In March, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that 142,000 Sandy victims would get a second chance at making a flood insurance claim if they felt they had been cheated by their flood insurance provider. About 73,000 of those victims live in New Jersey.

The review was ordered by FEMA after evidence emerged of a potentially widespread scheme to fundamentally change the engineering reports that insurance companies rely on to determine if a structural damage claim is paid out.

Reports that blamed the post-Sandy damage on earth movement or house settling were often used to deny coverage.

Possible fraud aside, homeowners on the Shore and elsewhere have complained that they were lowballed by their insurers.

12 Jun 2015


Advocates for property owners caution that chance to get more federal money could have strings attached


Sandy Maglio and her husband Louis stand on the back deck of their home in Beach Haven West, which was damaged during Sandy.

Sitting with her husband on the back deck of their home on a quiet cul-de-sac in the Beach Haven West section of Stafford Township, Sandy Maglio looks out on a channel where her neighbors park their recreational boats. It was this proximity to the water that first drew them to the community 45 years ago, and in the decades that followed, the thought rarely occurred to them that flooding could be a problem.

Even when Sandy was headed their way, they expected maybe six or seven inches of water — nowhere near the 3-foot-high surge that ended up washing through their living room and undermining their foundation.

Two-and-a-half years later, Maglio has managed to elevate her house and move back in, but she still has an entire cabinet filled with important documents related to the storm.

“This is all from building, this is insurance, this is paperwork for lifting, for the lawyer, receipts …” she explained, rifling through the stack recently.

“And then this pile is just memorabilia: all the newspaper clippings to save for the future.”

11 Jun 2015

Menendez: Beware ‘scam artist’ Sandy lawyers

What’s the difference between a lawyer and a scam artist? Not much, says U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, at least when it comes to those attorneys and others charging to guide superstorm Sandy victims through a new flood insurance claims review process.

New Jersey’s senior senator, himself a former attorney, issued a warning Thursday morning to policyholders who filed a claim after Sandy and may be eligible for more money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program claims review process.

The alert, which came in the form of a news release, cautions homeowners to be leery of “scam-artists offering to help them navigate (the process) in exchange for a substantial cut of any supplemental flood insurance payout they could get.”

FEMA has pitched the review procedure — in which as many as 142,000 post-Sandy claims could be given a second look — as one that does not require the services of attorney.

“You don’t need a middleman taking 30 percent of what you’re already entitled to and been waiting too long to receive,” Menendez said in the statement. “You have every right to have an attorney, and there are organizations that will offer free services to ensure that you get 100 percent of what is owed to you.”

10 Jun 2015

Should you hire lawyer for Sandy insurance claim?

Should you hire a lawyer to assist you with a review of your flood-insurance claim?

Three New Jersey groups that are offering free legal counseling for storm victims suggest you speak to them first.

“They don’t need to pay an attorney to do this,” Alayna Berg, a forensic social worker with Legal Services of New Jersey, told Ocean County disaster advocates on June 4. “This is not something that is so scary. There are three organizations that are willing to give information for free. Please try that first.”

Legal Services of NJ will join with the Community Health Law Project and Volunteer Lawyers for Justice to offer a free forum on the National Flood Insurance Program and the review process for flood insurance claims from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 13 at the Toms River Municipal Building, 33 Washington St.

But after more than 2 1/2 years of fighting for more flood insurance money, some Sandy victims don’t believe they’ll get a fair review from FEMA without the help of a lawyer.

Don’t go it alone

George Kasimos, founder of the Sandy watchdog group Stop FEMA Now, believes that Sandy victims are better off hiring a lawyer to represent them.

“I am of the firm belief that you should not go this alone,” Kasimos said. “People who just pick up the phone and do this themselves, I don’t think they will get the maximum they are entitled to.”

In March, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that 142,000 Sandy victims would get a second chance at making a flood insurance claim if they felt they had been cheated by their flood insurance provider. About 73,000 of those victims live in New Jersey.

26 May 2015

Sandy rental aid program raises monthly payments

Superstorm Sandy victims who need temporary housing while their homes are being repaired or elevated will now be able to get up to $1,300 a month for rental assistance.

That’s $475 more than the original monthly limit in the Rental Assistance Program, which was launched in March by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA). Eligible homeowners can now get up to nine months of rental assistance. There was initially a six-month limit.

Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, said HMFA has found that program applicants are facing higher rental costs than originally projected, and that some will be out of their homes for longer periods of time. As a result, the agency decided to raise the amount homeowners can seek each month, and also give three additional months’ help.

“As a result, the Agency decided to make more assistance available for a longer period of time in order to better address the situation” families are actually experiencing, she said.

Additional information, including a program overview, frequently asked questions, and the program application form is available online. Applicants who do not have access to a computer can contact 1-800-NJHOUSE for assistance.

When the program was announced in February, it was welcomed by Sandy recovery advocates.

The majority of requests received by Ocean County’s Long-Term Recovery Group are from homeowners seeking assistance with rental payments while they repair their homes. It’s now more than 30 months after Sandy struck, and many homeowners no longer have the financial resources to pay for a rental while still making mortgage payments on their damaged homes.

14 May 2015

Another homeless summer for some Sandy victims | Di Ionno

It’s almost summer and the Jersey Shore people left homeless by Hurricane Sandy are on the move again, leaving winter rentals as seasonal rents skyrocket.

“It’s a problem up and down the coast,” said Amanda Devecka-Rinear of the New Jersey Organizing Project, which helps people bound in the red tape of Sandy recovery. “We’re talking about a lot of people.”

How many?

Nobody knows.

“Because of the range of assistance programs being administered by different governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations, it is difficult to know how many Sandy-impacted residents are still on rental assistance, much less how many are in seasonal rentals,” said Lisa Ryan of the state Department of Community Affairs, the lead agency in the Sandy recovery.

We’re seeing people who have moved four or five times.’ — Susan Marticek, Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group

11 May 2015


Critics call for wide-ranging, structural reforms to ensure problems encountered after Sandy don’t happen again


Amid the stress and confusion in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, residents of coastal communities found themselves struggling to comprehend their losses and how to begin to put things back together.

They contacted their insurance companies to file flood claims — but many of them didn’t fully understand the process or their rights.

“What happened to a lot of people was the adjuster that came out would fill out a proof-of-loss form for the homeowner and then say, ‘Here. This is how much you’re getting.’ And a lot of people didn’t even get a copy,” said Amy Bach, who runs United Policyholders, a national insurance consumer advocacy group.

“They said they didn’t know what the basis was for the settlement offer they got. And a lot of people just overwhelmed by life and overwhelmed by the disaster would sort of sit on it and say, ‘OK. Jeez… I don’t know what I’m going to do with $13,000 when my damage is $80,000, but I don’t really know where to go.’”

Two -and-a-half years later, those problems — a mix of errors, shortcuts, and alleged fraud that appear to have been commonplace in both those initial inspections and the claims- handling process that followed – are still causing difficulties for storm victims and bogging down d down the state’s long-term recovery.

11 May 2015

Slowly rebuilding after Sandy, but thousands still displaced while working with N.J. program

More than 2½ years after Superstorm Sandy caused a multibillion-dollar path of destruction, just one-eighth of homeowners — or about 1,000 — in the state’s primary rebuilding program have completed construction and returned home.

While that figure represents a marked uptick in progress since the end of last year, when just 330 had completed reconstruction, it amounts to just a fraction of the approximately 8,300 homeowners enrolled in the state’s Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation Program, or RREM.

“It is welcomed that the number has gone up so much in the first quarter of the year,” said Susan Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group, one of several such groups formed after Sandy to help storm victims. “But the reality is, we’re coming up on two years of the program and we still have a long way to go.”

05 May 2015

FEMA Chief on Sandy Flood Insurance Claims: ‘We Want to Fix This’

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency says he wants to fix what went wrong with the process of paying flood insurance claims following Superstorm Sandy.

Craig Fugate told the first meeting of a congressional task force in Washington on April 28 that the flood program has to be revamped so equal importance is given to paying the full amount of legitimate claims.

“We want to fix this,” Fugate said. “If we owe money, we pay. Too often in government we are focused on not making an overpayment, putting more emphasis on not overpaying a claim. I gotta get it right. How do we get to something that’s more successful and works better the first time?”

New Jersey’s U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat, said the task force will focus on FEMA’s agreement to reopen all underpaid flood insurance claims for Superstorm Sandy victims. He said some of the underpayments were caused by “lowballing and manipulation of engineering and adjustment reports.”

“Getting it right means no overpayments, but it also means no underpayments,” Menendez said. “We have to get it right.”

The task force consists of the four senators from New Jersey and New York, Fugate, Sandy victims and their advocates in both states. It will recommend ways to improve the performance of the flood insurance program.

One of the members is George Kasimos, of Toms River, New Jersey, who formed the grass roots group Stop FEMA Now when FEMA announced that flood insurance rates would soar based on new flood maps it issued two months after the October 2012 storm.

29 Apr 2015



Andrea Kassimatis and her family of five are still living in a 37-foot trailer as they wait for contractors to finish building their new home.

Robin Buck remembers how excited he was when he was first approved for a state grant to fix his flooded Long Branch, NJ, home.

“It’s like hitting the lottery!” he said. “I was telling everybody. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, and that’s the truth. They were going to lift my home, and they’re paying me to do so? That is great!”

After spending $43,000 on repairs to make his house livable, he signed his grant paperwork last fall, then disconnected the utilities, handed over his keys, and moved out in early November so his state-appointed contractor could raise his home to protect it from future storms. The whole process, he was told, would take less than 90 days.

After Thanksgiving, as temperatures began to drop, Buck made several phone calls and sent emails to his caseworker to ask who would be responsible for winterizing his home.

“They were like, ‘Oh yeah. We’re going to come right out. I’ll have a guy out there Friday. Don’t worry about nothing,’” he recalled. “So I never paid no mind to it. I thought everything was taken care of.”