Three and a half months have gone by since Superstorm Sandy’s historic storm surge flooded the shores of New York and New Jersey. But as winter drags on, thousands of affected homeowners are in limbo, waiting to collect on their Federally backed flood insurance policies.
Politicians in the affected states are fed up — and they’re sounding off about it. Newsday reported last week on New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s criticism of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) (“Schumer blasts FEMA on slow flood claims,” by Joe Ryan).
Speaking at the badly damaged home of 50-year-old Long Island auto mechanic Donald Werle, Schumer called the NFIP’s performance on flood payouts a “disgrace.” “The flood insurance program is not getting people money quickly enough,” said Schumer. Werle, who has received just $20,000 on a $190,000 flood claim, says, “We have laid out as much money as we can from our own pockets.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also called the NFIP’s slow progress a disgrace, reports the Asbury Park Press (“NJ Gov. Christie: Fed flood insurance program a 'disgrace’”). “The governor complained that only about 30 percent of flood claims have been settled, or closed, compared with nearly 80 percent of the more than 430,000 other insurance claims filed by residents and businesses,” the paper reported.
Federal officials offered no apologies. “A FEMA spokesman said the agency is working as quickly as possible,” Newsday reported. “A FEMA spokesman said he had no immediate comment,” reported the Asbury Park Press.
While the Federal government backs the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and FEMA ultimately runs it, flood insurance claims are typically processed by private-sector carriers. And according to an Associated Press report, some of those private companies are doing a much better job than others. US News carried the report (“Many flood insurance claims languish after Sandy,” by David B. Caruso and Geoff Mulvihill).
“Selective Insurance Co. of America, a New Jersey-based carrier hit with 18,599 flood claims after the storm, had been able to settle only 39 percent of those policies as of Monday, according to data collected by the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” the report says. “By comparison, Allstate Insurance Co. had closed 94 percent of its 16,309 claims, paying out some $718 million to storm victims. That's far more than the $415 million distributed by Selective.”
But homeowners whose claims are settled may run into a second roadblock: delays by mortgage lenders whose names are included on the settlement checks. WNYC has the story (“Sandy Victims Waiting Weeks for Relief Checks, Study Finds,” by Daniel P. Tucker).
A New York State Department of Financial Services investigation has found that “more than 6,000 relief checks worth more than $200 million have been held up for as long as a month,” the station reports. “The checks must be endorsed by both the homeowner and the homeowner's bank or mortgage servicer. According to DFS, this so-called ‘dual endorsement’ is the main cause of the delays.”
Meanwhile, insurance adjuster Rick Tutwiler, who represents homeowners as a public adjuster for flood claims, is advising clients that a quick resolution to their flood claim may not always be in the insured party’s best interest. In a blog post, Tutwiler argues: “The pressure is now on to close files so the adjuster contractors can report back to the government officials that their open-to-closed file ratio is going down... So now we are getting calls from adjusters that the file needs to be closed by a certain date. Well that’s a good thing, but it has to be adjusted and an agreement needs to be reached on the fair scope and price for the loss. Sadly, we’re not seeing that as the priority. Instead, it is to get the file closed to get the insurance and media pressure off the contract adjuster's back.”
“Be careful,” says Tutwiler to policyholders. “Trying to re-open your file if you come up short is not an easy process. Use the political pressure that’s out there now to get your claim fully and fairly paid.”