Breezy Point, Queens – In a major step forward for families struggling to rebuild their homes from damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D – Breezy Point) announced a plan by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to open a review process to all victims looking to appeal their flood insurance assistance in the aftermath of the 2012 storm. This follows a recent request to FEMA by the Assemblyman to allow families to join a civil lawsuit pending in U.S. District court over alleged fraudulent actions by flood insurance companies post-Sandy.
“More than two and a half years after Sandy, many families in southern Queens and Rockaway are still fighting their insurance companies for the assistance they need to rebuild. They diligently paid their premiums year after year only to be abandoned by insurers when Sandy hit,” said Assemblyman Goldfeder. “I applaud FEMA for reopening the Sandy claims process and giving our families a second chance at finally getting the help they deserve.”
According to information provided to Goldfeder by FEMA’s Region II office, which oversees operations in New York and New Jersey, the agency is currently developing criteria for an appeals process available to Sandy victims interested in filing claims. While details remain to be finalized, the agency has informed the Assemblyman’s office that letters will be sent out around May 15th to victims explaining how the appeals process will work and will include a website and toll-free number with additional information.
Last month, the U.S. Senate convened a Sandy Task Force in Washington, D.C. to discuss Sandy recovery issues and address concerns regarding FEMA’s response to the storm. The task force outlined recommendations for FEMA as it implements the new appeals process, including making the review process faster and less burdensome for families; and urging flexibility from FEMA as it requests documentation from homeowners dating back to the storm.
“We expressed to FEMA that this needs to be a non-bureaucratic program and not add to the frustration families are still facing. FEMA must focus on making the people, not the process, a priority,” said Breezy Point Cooperative Assistant General Manager Denise Neibel, who attended the Senate Sandy Task Force last month.
This announcement comes as FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is in the process of settling 1,200 civil lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court by Sandy victims. The claims stem from allegations that engineering firms and adjusters sought to reduce payouts to homeowners by falsifying damage reports. In response, Assemblyman Goldfeder called on the federal agency to include all Sandy victims with potential cases of fraud in the settlement, regardless of whether victims were among the cases currently pending in court.
Goldfeder has made fighting Sandy insurance company practices a priority since instances of alleged fraud and other policyholder issues first came to light following Sandy. Goldfeder, a member of the Assembly Committee on Insurance, recently introduced legislation to create the New York Flood Insurance Association. The Assemblyman’s plan would create a joint underwriters association requiring insurance providers operating in New York State to follow fair practices and pool earnings from issuing premiums in an effort to hold insurers accountable during major disasters. And, in an effort to help families dispute their insurance claims, Goldfeder recently sponsored the Insurance Good Faith Act, which establishes grounds for filing civil lawsuits to recoup damages.
“Insurance companies had an obligation to our families to act in good faith and provide assistance during Sandy. This review process is an important step towards holding insurers accountable as we work to recover,” concluded Goldfeder.