ICYMI: Menendez on Sandy Fourth Anniversary
ICYMI: Menendez on Sandy Fourth Anniversary
Calls for major overhaul of National Flood Insurance Program, Establishing Storm Protection Fund to Improve Resiliency: ‘While progress has been made, recovery has eluded too many of our loved ones and neighbors four years later’
NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez penned the following op-ed appearing in today’s edition of The Record on the fourth anniversary of when Superstorm Sandy struck New Jersey:
Menendez: Rising from ruin, insurance fraud stemming from Sandy
By ROBERT MENENDEZ
FOUR YEARS AGO, families across New Jersey were putting the final touches on Halloween costumes, decorating their homes with spider webs and watching “Saturday Night Live” impersonate the candidates of a different presidential election. It was, as we now know, the calm before the Superstorm — Sandy –which struck with a ferocity never seen in our history, leaving behind swaths of devastation and destruction.
New Jerseyans have displayed incredible strength and resiliency, refusing to give up as they continue to rebuild their homes and their lives. But while progress has been made, recovery has eluded too many of our loved ones and neighbors four years later.
It’s been a tough road. Getting $60 billion in federal disaster funding in the face of Tea Party opposition in Congress was no easy task. Our recovery was then hamstrung by a litany of failures at both the state and federal levels.
While much of the money was properly used to reimburse municipalities for emergency costs, rebuild firehouses and beaches and give business owners a lifeline, New Jersey’s reconstruction program to get people back in their homes failed to deliver. Congressional hearings I chaired exposed gross mismanagement, sweetheart deals to inept contractors like HGI, and the slow, inefficient delivery of disaster funds to families in need.
Now, HUD wants $43 million back because of the state’s bungling. But the federal government had a responsibility to fix these problems from the beginning, not come along four years later and demand its money back. This would only hurt Sandy victims.
And the feds bear additional blame for the failures of the National Flood Insurance Program. A pattern began to emerge after constituents shared with me horror stories of being paid pennies on the dollar on their flood insurance policies, despite FEMA’s denials.
We quickly learned of a widespread scheme to deny and underpay. Engineering reports had been altered after the fact. Denials came with creative reasons like “preexisting condition” or “earth movement.” We held hearings, formed the Sandy Task Force, and relentlessly pounded FEMA and the insurance companies until they agreed to reopen every single Sandy flood insurance claim for those who thought they were underpaid.
Today, more than $200 million has been additionally awarded to Sandy survivors from an unprecedented review — real money to real people who desperately needed it. But despite this success, it never should have taken this long nor been so difficult for Sandy survivors just to get what they deserve.
In the four years since Sandy, Americans have suffered disastrous flooding from Texas to the Carolinas and Florida. It’s only a matter of time before another powerful storm sets its sights on New Jersey. But until there are sweeping reforms to FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, the nation will have learned nothing from the lessons of Sandy.
The National Flood Insurance Program is up for reauthorization in the coming year and I will be leading the charge for real change and a top-to-bottom overhaul.
Under pressure, FEMA has already agreed to limit money going to lawyers to fight claims from survivors; to cease using aggressive tactics to stifle claims in court rather than actually pay out what policyholders are owed; and to establish a direct hotline and streamlined appeals process to replace the empty shell game Sandy victims had to endure.
But it’s not enough. For instance, FEMA must cap the profits of its flood insurance companies — or kick them out entirely. These private insurers that service federal flood insurance policies bear none of the risk and should not be allowed to pilfer funds meant for storm victims. And “earth movement” should never be an excuse to deny payments; I plan to eliminate that ridiculous loophole.
Storm Protection Fund
Additionally, with climate change and extreme weather posing an increased threat, I will call upon the new Congress to launch a Storm Protection Fund that would invest billions of dollars to fortify our neighborhoods, secure buildings, weatherproof homes and construct a series of flood defenses like berms, seawalls and dunes, to keep floodwaters at bay.
We’ve seen all too well the tremendous toll of inaction. The price of prevention will pale in comparison to the cost of picking up the pieces left behind by the next Superstorm. Prevention is truly much more economical than cure.
So, on this fourth anniversary, let us pledge to never forget the struggles of Sandy survivors. And let us promise to learn from this disaster, so that we are better prepared and more resilient going forward. It’s now or never.