Senator Menendez , Senator Cory Booker, Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, FEMA Administrator – Craig Fugate, George Kasimos – “StopFemaNow” Founder, Asst. Prof. Benjamin Rajotte, Touro Law School (N.Y.); Ex. Dir. Sue Marticek, Ocean County (N.J.) LTRG , Ass. Gen. Mgr. Denise Neibel, Breezy Point (N.Y.) Cooperative
“The Sandy Task Force will provide a critical Congressional Oversight function as FEMA fulfills its promise to reopen more than 140,000 flood insurance claims filed by Sandy victims not currently in litigation. To ensure the non-litigant review process is simple, fair and efficient, the Task Force will examine the following issues:
Non-Burdensome Review Process. FEMA should receive all of the relevant documentation from the WYO for each policy review, rather than require policyholders to provide it. It should also provide the policyholder with any documentation relevant to their case.
Evidence required by FEMA. FEMA should be flexible and reasonable regarding any additional evidence it requires from policyholders to substantiate damages. It’s been more than 2 ½ years since the storm hit, it’s unreasonable to expect policyholders to still have all of their documentation or receipts.
Timeline. FEMA should get the process up and running as quickly as possible and make conduct the reviews within a short and reasonable time. Policyholders should be given an adequate time to opt-in to the review but FEMA should decide the matter quickly after it’s submitted.
Independent appeals. FEMA should have an independent, third-party “neutral” to consider appeals to its review determinations. Duplication of benefits. Additional costs incurred by the policyholder as a result of getting underpaid and not being able to rebuild, such as rent, moving expenses, etc. should be considered additional “unmet needs” and thus eligible for reimbursement, rather than being clawed back. This issue also applies to cases in ongoing litigation.
Non-profits. Non-profits should be given the resources to help policyholders navigate the claims review process so they are not stuck paying attorney fees just to get a fair shake. The Sandy Task Force will also explore long-term fixes to the NFIP to ensure what happened after Sandy is not repeated to future disaster victims. The issues to be examined include, but are not limited to, the following:
Viability of WYO model. WYOs receive more than 30% of NFIP premiums (more than $1B per year) to service the program, and it’s clear that policyholders aren’t getting their money’s worth. Oversight of all NFIP contractors Even if we determine that the WYO model is viable, there still needs to be robust reforms and additional oversight of the WYOs. This includes fixing the over/underpayment penalty structure that Sen. Menendez first raised at a Banking Subcommittee hearing he chaired last year, in which Sen. Schumer took part, ensuring all policyholders have access to all documentation, including permutations of engineer reports, etc.
Earth movement exemption. This needs to be examined and determined whether the exemptions are too broad, confusing, or just poorly implemented.
Data collection. FEMA needs to comprehensively track claims, appeal, and other data necessary for them to determine when a problem is occurring early on, rather than years later. Appeals Process.The appeals process needs to be fundamentally fixed with additional independence injected and accountability. Currently, it is an ineffective remedy that perversely leads to additional litigation as the default.
WYO attorney fees. FEMA needs to change the way it reimburses WYOs for attorney fees, because the current structure gives WYOs no incentive to avoid long, drawn out and costly litigation.
Dozens of Sandy Survivors from New Jersey and New York traveled to the Capitol to attend the meeting.