The review of flood insurance claims from superstorm Sandy has been bogged down in confusion and hesitation, according to a letter to FEMA from U.S. Senator Robert Menendez’s office.
Menendez, and perhaps eventually the entire New Jersey Congressional delegation, is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to push the deadline on the Sandy claims review process back three months to December 15.
“Thousands of homeowners still have countless questions about what information they need to provide and how they need to proceed in order to get every penny they’re entitled to,” reads the Democrat’s letter.
In March, FEMA announced that it would take another look at as many as 142,000 National Flood Insurance Program claims, including 74,000 in New Jersey.
Under the newly designed process, policyholders had to request a review, but many people are weary about interacting with FEMA again.
By 5 p.m. Wednesday, a couple dozen homeowners had filtered through the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group’s hands-on claims review workshop in Middletown. Several expressed reticence about dusting off all their old Sandy claims paperwork.
“It’s like they (FEMA) are making it up as they go along,” said Brian Tober, of Monmouth Beach, who has reapplied but wanted some advice. “But they’ve been through this with us once already. This should be easy.”
Only about 10,000 Sandy claims — for the whole region — will be reviewed or have already been, according to figures from FEMA through the end of July. FEMA set a deadline of September 15 for policyholders to challenge any Sandy flood claim.
Menendez attributes much of the uncertainty to two questions:
• If a homeowner receives more insurance proceeds as a result of the review will that change their substantial damage determination and cause them to have to elevate their home? The feds have said towns shouldn’t be using these new payments as a means to revise earlier damage estimates.
• Will more insurance money displace previously awarded grant money, resulting in the homeowner using all of this new money to pay back grants they are no longer eligible for? New Jersey has pledged not to seek repayment any RREM grant funds from homeowners who earn additional insurance money.
But the Menendez letter says that “hundreds of homeowners have now waited over 110 days and still do not have their results, let alone a check in hand.” FEMA had pledged that the process would take a maximum of 90 days from start to finish.
New Jerseyans were paid out less from flood insurance policies than their New York counterparts or the victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, where the cost of living is relatively low.
More than a 1,000 sued their insurers, but many more tried to rebuild with a combination of the insurance money and government grants. For many, they were never able to make up the insurance shortfall.
“We know firsthand that people are short funding for their (reconstruction) projects and this may be the last, best opportunity for them to get funding,” said Sue Marticek, executive director of the recovery group.
How many people are having their Sandy flood claims reviewed?
As of July 31:
•14,739 have called the claims review hotline 866-337-4262 or downloaded an online application to initiate the process;
•10,449 have been determined eligible for a review;
•9,993 claims are being reviewed or already have been.
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency