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29 Apr 2015

Sandy claims review could begin next month, FEMA says

Thousands of homeowners who think they were lowballed by flood insurers after superstorm Sandy should keep an eye on their mailboxes next month, although for most it will likely be a longer wait for justice.

Executives at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which underwrites nearly all flood insurance policies in the U.S., divulged details about the still-forming review process during the first meeting of the Sandy Task Force, a committee that includes U.S. senators from New Jersey and New York.

FEMA head Craig Fugate said the plan is to start first with the claims where an engineering review was performed by any firm that has been tied to some of the questionable actions that have come to light in recent months. After that, he continued, will be policyholders whose insurer had an structural inspection performed by any other firm. Then, finally, anybody else whose policy was paid out below policy limits.

“I want to be able by May to send out the first letters,” said Brad Kieserman, who is overseeing what FEMA is calling the Sandy claims review.

Kieserman declined to elaborate on any time line, acknowledging that number of people potentially involved — more than 140,000 claims could be in line for a another look — makes this “unprecedented.”

Last month, FEMA said it had identified 15,311 claims where an engineering report was prepared on behalf of the insurer and the payment was something less than the maximum the policy allows. Of those, 3,402 were in New Jersey.

28 Apr 2015

FEMA Chief on Sandy Aid: ‘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 Tuesday 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

28 Apr 2015

NJ, NY Senators Convene Sandy Task Force

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.), and Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (both D-N.Y.) today convened the first meeting of the Sandy Task Force to examine problems within the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) arising in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and develop recommendations for short- and long-term fixes.

The Sandy Task Force will focus on a range of relevant issues, including FEMA’s commitment to reopen all underpaid flood insurance claims from Superstorm Sandy victims caused by widespread lowballing and manipulation of engineering and adjustment reports. It will also explore the viability of a complete overhaul of the NFIP, including whether the current model of relying on third-party, private, Write-Your-Own (WYO) insurance companies to process claims, is the best way to serve policyholders.

“Your government failed you, plain and simple, and you deserve much, much better,” said Sen. Menendez. “The purpose of this Task Force is very simple: 1) to bring justice to the Sandy survivors who were lowballed; and 2) to fix the claims process so this injustice never happens again. The Task Force’s goal is to make the flood insurance program more efficient and more responsive for the next storm victims, while restoring fairness and ending the nightmare for current storm victims.”

10 Mar 2015


sandy recovery victims

Sandy victims at a recent meeting of the group Stop FEMA Now, expressing their concerns about the recovery.

In the aftermath of Sandy, two of the main places many storm victims turned for assistance were FEMA and the NJ Department of Community Affairs, which distributed housing and rental aid from the federal government. The money from both these sources has been instrumental in helping residents slowly repair their damages and rebuild their lives.

But just as they thought they were making progress, some Sandy survivors have been surprised to receive letters in the mail asking them to return some of that funding or notifying them of reductions in the amounts they had previously been promised. In some cases, these letters threaten legal action, negative reports to credit agencies, property liens, and impacts on residents’ future eligibility for federal disaster assistance if they fail to pay. The requests — which the government refers to as “recoupment,” but which homeowners call “claw backs” stem from government audits that found miscalculations in the original grant amounts or determined that recipients are not in fact eligible for as much as they had initially been told.

06 Mar 2015

Should homeless qualify for Sandy housing assistance?

When superstorm Sandy blew through Lakewood in 2012, a tree crushed Will Brown’s dwelling. Brown’s dwelling was made not of brick and mortar, but of nylon and twine.

That distinction doesn’t matter to homeless advocates, who are urging former residents of Tent City — a homeless camp in the woods of Lakewood that has since shuttered — to apply for two years of federal housing vouchers meant to help low-income Sandy victims.

“I lost everything that I owned to Sandy,” said Brown, 51, who could not rebuild the tent. “A generator, a TV set, a DVD player, clothing, canned foods – it was all destroyed.”

The thought of people who were homeless before Sandy taking advantage of the Sandy Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program is “totally absurd,” said Diane Mazzacca, whose home in Beach Haven West was severely damaged by Sandy.

“I’m so livid, I could spit nails,” Mazzacca said. “New Jersey wants to pay for social services on the backs of Sandy victims.”

Housing advocates see nothing extraordinary about the homeless getting the Sandy help. The superstorm impacted not only property owners and long-term renters, but those in unstable housing situations, said Adam Gordon, an attorney with the non-profit Fair Share Housing Center, one of several organizations encouraging the homeless to apply for the 1,400 TBRA vouchers, which will total $32 million.

26 Feb 2015

New Sandy aid program to provide short-term rental help

A new aid program for superstorm Sandy victims will provide payment for temporary housing while their homes are undergoing repairs or being elevated.

The Rental Assistance Program, approved Thursday by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA) board, will provide up to $825 a month for up to three months for eligible homeowners who are participating in the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) or LMI Homeowners Rebuilding programs.

The program will begin accepting applications March 16. Details on how and where to apply for the aid will be released when the program launches that same day, according to a press release from the state Department of Community Affairs.

“Right now, rental assistance for temporary housing is a significant need for homeowners in our major housing recovery programs,” said Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency Executive Director Anthony L. Marchetta. “The administration recognizes that rebuilding, repairing or elevating a home puts a significant strain on families who are already shouldering a great financial burden. There is a need to help relieve some of that financial pressure and facilitate the recovery process to get families back home.”

13 Feb 2015

New storm: Foreclosures rise for Sandy victims

Many superstorm Sandy affected homes in Monmouth and Ocean Counties are now subject to foreclosure. Staff video by Doug Hood Doug Hood

More than 300 Sandy-affected homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties slipped into foreclosure during the first 10 months of 2014.

Hundreds of families forced from their homes during superstorm Sandy now face a new tempest: foreclosure on the properties they are struggling to rebuild.

An Asbury Park Press analysis has identified 305 Sandy-affected homes in Monmouth and Ocean counties that have been pushed into the property-seizure process during the first 10 months of 2014.

Of the 305 homes in foreclosure, 134 incurred some level of damage or inundation, the Press found. The remaining homes were found to be within the flood zones, which could have dramatically altered neighborhoods, affected property values and spurred foreclosure.

Experts say the glut of foreclosed homes in New Jersey makes it difficult to quantify what impact the devastating October 2012 storm had on borrowers’ ability to stay current on their mortgages. But they agreed Sandy definitely plays a part in the ongoing foreclosure crisis in the Garden State, which by percentage has more distressed properties than any state in the nation.

02 Feb 2015

Ocean County group seeks $20 million for Sandy victims

Ocean County’s Long-Term Recovery Group is seeking $20 million in funds for a coordinated program that it says can help get more Sandy victims back into their homes.

The group is an umbrella organization of more than 80 nonprofits that has worked to provide money and volunteer labor that helps fill gaps between a homeowners’ resources and the actual cost of rebuilding. The recovery group recently submitted its request to the state Department of Community Affairs, and is seeking money from the $502 million New Jersey is slated to received in the third round of federal Sandy recovery funds.

It is asking for the $20 million to be distributed over the next two years.

07 Jan 2015

Ocean County Sandy victims’ plea: Help us get back home

At a public meeting on the proposed distribution of Sandy money, Margaret Quinn, a Toms River resident whose home was severely damaged by Sandy, is critical of the way that money is being allocated. STAFF VIDEO BY BOB BIELK STAFF VIDEO BY BOB BIELK

Frances Accardi has been living in an uninsulated travel trailer on her Toms River property since shortly after Superstorm Sandy flooded her ranch home with 5 feet of water, forcing her to have it demolished.

Secret Sandy engineering reports set to be released

On Tuesday Accardi, who is still trying to rebuild her house, came to a hearing on the state’s plans for $502 million in federal storm aid to beg New Jersey officials to do a better job getting people back home.

“We are reaching out to you because we don’t know which other way to turn,” said Accardi, who lives in Toms River’s Silverton section, which was badly flooded during Sandy. “The people who don’t have a house to live in should be the first to be addressed.”

07 Jan 2015

‘We need help desperately,’ residents tell state officials at Sandy hearing


New Jersey officials today held a public hearing in Toms River on the state’s plan for spending the third and final round of federal Hurricane Sandy disaster relief aid. Here, work gloves hang from a clothes line outside of an unoccupied home still in repair in the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, two years after the storm ripped through the state. (Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media for

TOMS RIVER — The state plans to spend most of the half billion dollars in Hurricane Sandy recovery funding allocated to New Jersey in the final round of aid from the federal government on affordable rental housing programs and grants for people who want to rebuild.

But residents who spoke at a public hearing today in Toms River on the state’s plan to spend that money said officials haven’t done a good enough job distributing the money New Jersey has already received. Many expressed continued frustration with the pace of rebuilding programs, saying the protracted recovery has left them drained.

“We’re all hurting financially, medically, physically, every way you can think of,” said Denise Vaccaro, a Forked River resident who is renting in Beachwood as she waits for her home to be rebuilt. “We need help. We need help desperately.”

Vaccaro said she has been preliminarily approved for a grant through the state’s largest rebuilding program, which she described as unresponsive and difficult to navigate.

“Let’s put it like this: hell,” she said.

The four-person panel of state officials listening to residents’ comments at the meeting included Terrence Brody, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding and Melissa Orsen, the deputy commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs. Neither were available for comment following the hearing.

Tammori Petty, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs, said officials would address the concerns raised during the hearing, giving “individualized attention to each comment.”

The Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program, which is known by its acronym, RREM, provides up to $150,000 for storm-related repairs.

The state plans to funnel $225 million from the nearly $502 million New Jersey is receiving from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in a third round of funding to the RREM program.

The state also plans to transfer $5 million from a post-Sandy tourism marketing campaign and $25 million from a program to help cover the cost of matching funds to use for the housing grant program.

With that additional funding, the state plans to help the fewer than 2,000 people who have are still waiting for a grant through the program.

Of the $1.1 billion dedicated to the fund in the first two rounds of funding, the state has disbursed more than $436 million as of today and 328 homes have been completed.

“The RREM program is broken folks,” said George Kasimos, a Toms River resident and the founder of the grassroots group Stop FEMA Now. “There’s no help.”

“This is the first time New Jersey has dealt with this,” Petty said when asked about residents’ ongoing problems with the state-run program. “It’s long-term recovery.

In the three-hour long meeting today at Ocean County College, residents said the state should send funding to organizations like the Ocean County Long Term Recovery group. That group, residents said, has helped them more than any government program.

“They know our personal circumstances and we are not a randomized lottery number to them,” said Margaret Quinn of Toms River, who said she was approved and then wrongly denied a grant through the RREM program.

In addition to the additional funding for the rebuilding grant program, the state’s plan calls for putting another $215 million into a fund for affordable rental housing. A settlement reached between the state and advocacy groups that filed a complaint charging the Christie administration with unfairly distributing disaster recovery funds called for allocating additional funding into that program.

The settlement also sets targets for directing that funding to the most impacted communities.

The state’s plan also sets aside $10 million for a fund to repair or replace housing for individuals with special needs and $15 million for additional tenant‐based rental assistance.

Another public hearing is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Bergen Community College’s Moses Center at 400 Paramus Road in Paramus.

Written comments on the plan, which can be emailed to, will be accepted through Jan. 15.

Erin O’Neill may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LedgerErin. Find on Facebook.


Erin O'Neill | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBy Erin O’Neill | NJ Advance Media for 
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on January 07, 2015 at 7:30 AM, updated January 07, 2015 at 7:35 AM