Read how Ellen and Frank fought their RREM Clawback ($15,000), managed to eventually get ICC funding ($30,000) to not be a Clawback and how they received tens of thousands more in Flood Insurance Claim appeal.
We are sending a big thank you for helping us to receive our full $15k retainage from RREM. It has been a long tough road and we thought that the finish line was in sight in August 2017 when we handed in all of our documents for the RREM closeout. We had made sure all of the documents were in order including the invoices, check copies, and receipts to cover $150k grant as well as our $30k ICC.
In the middle of our elevation after the walls were gutted and exposed, it became apparent that our foundation had been damaged by Sandy’s floodwaters beyond repair. Our engineer determined that our entire 8 foot high block foundation and footings were crumbling and sinking and needed to be demolished. Our house is a bi-level on a slab and having to demolish and rebuild an entire foundation /footings with the full 1,000sf first level that had sat on top of the slab before the elevation, was going to add significantly to an already costly elevation. Thanks to the SFN meetings, we knew it was important to be proactive and document everything to make sure we would have no surprises at closeout. We notified our PM that a scope adjustment was going to be needed because of the extra cost of over $70k. We were told that we couldn’t get a scope adjustment until the end of our project because we had reached the $150k grant maximum. This policy is unfair to begin with and puts the homeowner at the mercy of the Reconciliation Team at the end of the project. To protect ourselves, prior to demolishing the foundation and footings, we paid our engineer to document the condition of our foundation with a descriptive letter as well as pictures and video. This would prove to be invaluable during our closeout. We are so grateful to you and to the SFN members who shared their stories and wisdom so that other homeowners would have the best shot at avoiding Duplication of Benefits at closeout. Now we hope others will learn something from our story as well.
Despite handing in all of our documents and engineer’s letter and pictures, we received the dreaded clawback letter in October 2017. It said we would only be receiving $4,700 instead of the full $15k of our retainage because of DOB. Interestingly, what was missing from their letter were the detailed calculations of how they arrived at that number. Where were the square footage and cost breakdowns that we so painstakingly provided? How come we were denied these calculations when I reached out to person after person from the DCA? Your advice at the meetings is what pushed us to keep speaking up.
Even still, we could not get them to show us the numbers and calculations. When we would call or email, time after time again, just shut us down. We were courteous and calm, but it did not matter. We remember you had said at a meeting, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” We stepped out of our comfort zone and fought the good fight but to no avail. You reminded me that “sometimes you have to be a pain in the a..” to get heard. So we didn’t give up. The breaking point for me was when I received an email the day before Thanksgiving stating that my closeout document was administratively signed because we didn’t sign it within the 30 day period. I was still in the middle of trying to get someone to listen, of course I didn’t sign the closeout form yet. It was the ultimate slap in the face. As we were enjoying the holiday with our family, I fought back tears whenever I thought about the financial hit we were taking by not receiving the $15k. We had that money earmarked to pay off a loan we took out to cover the unforeseen extra foundation work. This was our first Thanksgiving since moving back home from a rental apartment and everyone was giddy and excited for this special day. There are three generations under this roof and a lot was riding on this elevation; Our home is a mother/daughter with mom on her own level, and us on the top level. I had to sit on that sickening information through Thanksgiving Day and the weekend that followed because I didn’t want to ruin the holiday.
We had gone back and forth with various people from the RREM Reconciliation Team and were told “sorry, we made our decision and our numbers are correct and we don’t have to show you the calculations”. We practically begged the women who processed our closeout to please go over the calculations with us. We were absolutely sure without a doubt that we were entitled to receive that money. Our unmet need was originally $9,700 in 2015, even before the news about the foundation. We had cancelled checks and invoices to prove the extra foundation work exceeded another $70,000. This would have bumped up our unmet need to over $80,000. Way more than enough to cover the $30,000 we received from our ICC already. The women handling our closeout just did not care and seemed to take pleasure in denying us our retainage. They simply would not budge and knew we had no one else we could ask. We requested an appeal and were flat out denied. Every email and phone call asking for the numbers was denied. No explanation, no clarity, nothing. Time after time the door was shut until finally I broke down and called you George. I knew you were busy helping others and I really felt like just accepting the fact that we got ripped off like so many other people. We had exhausted every avenue. We even requested help from other organizations before turning to you and they could not do anything. We spent so much of our time that it took away from our family. We have a seven year old, Noelle, and a sixteen year old, Carl, and we feel guilt over spending our precious free time on this grant and its closeout process instead of on our children.
Thank you George for giving of your precious time and creating an impressive network of people who are in a position to help Sandy victims. Within a few days of you contacting Sam V., we were emailed with the good news that our closeout documents were going to be sent back to the Reconciliation Team. However, this time, the file would now be reviewed under the direction and supervision of Sam Viavattine. Within two weeks, we heard the amazing news that the review determined we are entitled to our full $15k retainage. Under Sam, our closeout was done correctly and super fast. The RREM grant is behind us now and finally our house feels cheerier and lighter. No more piles and piles of paperwork stacked in our bedroom. And we can file away all the emails we had been keeping these past five years.
George, your meetings helped us beyond measure from obtaining our ECR pricing three years ago to learning about elevating our house as high as possible. We learned how people from the Katrina flood had to raise their house a second time as BFE’s were being raised higher. You brought in people to talk about the reopening of our insurance claims. It’s amazing how Stop FEMA Now started as a grassroots organization born out of frustration and injustice of how flood victims were being treated. And it quickly became a voice for all flood victims as SFN moved beyond the borders of New Jersey to include victims of floods across the country. Thanks for tirelessly taking on the politicians, partnering with some and lambasting others. Who can forget the video of you yelling at the governor, “I call bullsh….”. It was empowering to see someone hold our government accountable. SFN is a force to be reckoned with as the lawmakers now know someone is watching their every move. There is power in numbers and thankfully the underdog, the homeowner, now has an advocate.
Our original intention was to thank you for helping us to fight back and receive our retainage that had been clawed back. However, after writing this and reflecting upon what has happened this past five and a half year, this letter has morphed into something else. George, I’m not sure if you know it or not, but your name has become commonplace in many people’s homes. We’ve noticed that on your website, people grieve and console each other. They vent and receive support and compassion. Some had to walk away from their house even though they had fought the good fight. Others are hanging on for dear life. But there is a common thread that runs through us all, and that is the need to be dealt a fair hand. And during those early days after the flood, there was chaos and confusion. We were led like lambs to the slaughter as FEMA came in and corruption was rampant. But they never foresaw that a grassroots organization with a scrapper at the helm, made up of people who were hurt by Sandy’s floodwaters and then hurt a second time by FEMA, would go on to advocate for every flood victim in this country.
Thanks for everything George,
Ellen and Frank Raczynski “
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