Lawmakers are asking for the deadline to be pushed back so that more people can learn about and be persuaded to sign up for a review of their Sandy flood insurance claims.
The Hurricane Sandy Claims Review Process was put in place by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in response to widespread claims of victims being cheated on their insurance payouts. Reports of falsified engineering reports and other scams by insurers had politicians raging and officials scrambling to give victims an outlet to appeal underpayments.
Now it turns out the entire review process was itself largely a fraud, at least according to whistleblowers who have stepped forward to expose a systematic effort to cheat victims once again. One of those whistleblowers, Jeff Coolidge, a former FEMA contractor, detailed the abuses Thursday at a press conference called by Rep. Tom MacArthur, who represents Ocean County.
Coolidge described a cynical, corrupt process in which he was ordered to forgo thorough review claims and adjust estimates to fall within a prescribed dollar range determined by a software program. The entire system was designed to underpay victims and affected about 1,000 claims Coolidge said he handled.
Hollywood could scarcely do a better job whipping up a stereotypical cold-hearted insurer sticking it to some hapless customer.
Augie Matteis, a lawyer with the law firm Weisbrod Matteis & Copley representing about 1,300 home and business owners affected by Sandy, summed it up perfectly: “The review itself is just a second round of massive fraud.”
FEMA officials, of course, insist they’re doing a bang-up job handling everyone’s claims as promptly and as fairly as humanly possible. But the whisteblowers’ stories certainly ring true. Most of us have had our difficulties with insurers of all kinds reluctant to deliver on rightful claims, and the methods of attempting to scam consumers are varied and creative. Add to that environment a federal bureaucracy and the massive amount of damage generated by Sandy and abuses in the processing of storm claims were inevitable.
But we’d like to think at some point a fair and honest resolution is attainable for everyone, and that victims won’t be faced with an unending succession of agencies and organizations only in the business of shortchanging them. The whistleblowers’ tales make us think otherwise. Is there any level of bureaucracy that can be trusted? Ever? Even storm victims who did nothing wrong and tried to follow all the rules can’t get a fair shake? From anyone?
Outrage should be just the beginning of the response to these accusations, should they prove true. MacArthur wants a congressional investigation and the resignation of FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. So do we.
Heads will indeed have to roll, and a formal probe is a must at this point. Federal and state officials as well as insurers and everyone else with a hand in processing claims have failed many Sandy victims repeatedly, and intentionally. That cannot go unpunished, and those victims cannot remain forever cheated