Menendez, Sandy Survivors Demand Action to Protect Residents, Communities from Future Floods & their Aftermath

Menendez, Sandy Survivors Demand Action to Protect Residents, Communities from Future Floods & their Aftermath

Senator returns to home of Toms River family who just finished rebuilding, moved back in 7 years after Sandy

 

TOMS RIVER, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, chair of the Sandy Task Force and a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee that oversees the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), today returned to the home of Toms River resident Doug Quinn, whom he first visited after Superstorm Sandy, to celebrate completion of the family’s newly-rebuilt house, and to call for federal reforms to protect future flood survivors from the systemic failures and delays in recovery.  He was joined by Sandy survivors and advocates to demand Congress pass comprehensive NFIP reforms that include increased homeowner protections and unprecedented investment in mitigations and resiliency.

Tuesday marks seven years since Superstorm Sandy struck the Garden State, destroying homes, uprooting communities and displacing thousands of residents, and while much of the state has rebuilt, the recovery continues for far too many New Jerseyans.

“We’re facing a perfect storm that could drown New Jersey families in higher flood insurance premiums and risk, sending the National Flood Insurance Program into a death spiral…. I believe the time for reform is now,” said Sen. Menendez.  “When I visited Doug’s storm-wrecked home back in 2014, I made a promise that I wouldn’t stop fighting until he and his family could return home.  It’s been an honor to keep that promise, but I won’t be satisfied until we fix what’s broken.  And I believe that helping future storm victims avoid the nightmare Sandy survivors like Doug lived through is a just and worthy cause.”

 

 

The National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization and Reform (NFIP Re) Act of 2019 tackles systemic problems with flood insurance, puts it back on solid fiscal ground, and reframes the nation’s entire disaster paradigm to one that focuses more on prevention and mitigation to spare the high cost of rebuilding after flood disasters. 

Sen. Menendez introduced the measure in July with strong bipartisan support in the Senate, including the backing of Sen. Cory Booker.  U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (N.J.-06) and Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09) have introduced companion legislation in the House with support from the entire New Jersey congressional delegation.

Sen. Menendez stood today with Doug Quinn, a Marine veteran who recently moved back into his newly-rebuilt, elevated home in Toms River’s Silverton section.  Seven years ago, record storm surge up Barnegat Bay and the nearby Kettle Creek sent three-foot waves crashing into the family’s ranch-style house, he lived in with his teenaged daughter, inundating it with four-foot-deep floodwater. 

“I came here to tell a hard truth, which is that without real reform, we’ll be facing the same exact problems we faced after Superstorm Sandy when the next storm comes,” Sen. Menendez said.  “Indeed, it’s happening already to homeowners across America who’ve been hit with catastrophic flooding from Texas to Louisiana to the upper Midwest and beyond.  We can and we must do better.  No one should have to go through what Doug and others have gone through.”

 

Menendez Demands Action to Protect Residents, Communities from Flooding

 

The Quinns had already been displaced for 21 months when Sen. Menendez first visited their home in July 2014 to highlight systemic problems that delayed recovery for thousands of Sandy survivors.  Despite a $254,000 damage assessment and $250,000 in flood insurance coverage, the Quinns initially received only $92,000, of which their mortgage company held half, leaving them with little money to remediate and rebuild.  Doug Quinn was later mired for years in the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program created under the Christie Administration, and eventually paid $42,000 in legal fees to get what he was entitled to rebuild. 

 

DougQuinn

Sen. Menendez with Doug Quinn and his daughter, Megan, in their Sandy-damaged home in July 2014

 

“We are happy to finally get home after Superstorm Sandy,” said Doug Quinn.  “We’re so grateful to Senator Menendez and NJOP for standing up for us when almost no one else would.  The fact that it took seven years shows just how broken disaster recovery is in America and how badly the National Flood Insurance Program needs to be reformed.  American families need affordable flood insurance and the senator’s NFIP reauthorization bill promises to deliver that by eliminating the waste and fraud that have come to characterize the program”

More than five million American families, including more than 220,000 New Jerseyans, depend upon the NFIP, which Congress must reauthorize before it expires next month.

"Senator Menendez was there before the storm, securing over a billion dollars to build a fortified dune system.  He secured over $60 billion right after the storm to help us rebuild after the storm. Seven years later, he is still fighting to get every Sandy-survivor home.  For the future, he is fighting to keep flood insurance affordable for everyone,” George Kasimos, founder of Stop FEMA Now said.  “We appreciate his continued support.”

“New Jersey Organizing Project's goal is to see every Sandy survivor get home and be able to afford to stay in their homes,” said Jody Stewart of NJOP.  “The current NFIP does not work for our communities and we need to see a better, affordable and a fair NFIP.  We support the NFIP Re as it works for us and our communities—not the insurance companies.”

 

The National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization and Reform (NFIP Re) Act of 2019

Long-Term Certainty.  Reauthorizes the NFIP for five years, providing certainty for communities.

No Steep Rate Hikes under Risk Rating 2.0.  Protects policyholders from exorbitant premium hikes by capping annual increases at 9%. Currently, premiums can more than double every 4 years or less and FEMA’s new methodology called Risk Rating 2.0 will fundamentally alter premiums on every policy in the country.  This untested and unknown methodology could cause a rate shock and lead to unaffordability premiums, forcing homeowners to drop coverage or lose their homes.  We saw all too clearly the negative consequences of hiking premiums after the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 caused costs to skyrocket, hurting policyholders and disrupting the real estate market.  This will put guardrails on FEMA’s new rating methodology, known as Risk Rating 2.0, and safeguard policyholders from sudden rate shocks. 

Affordability for Low- and Middle-Income Policyholders.  Provides a comprehensive means-tested voucher for millions of low- and middle-income homeowners and renters if their flood insurance premium causes their housing costs to exceed 30% of their Adjusted Gross Income, significantly increasing the affordability of the NFIP program.

Path to NFIP Solvency.  Freezes interest payments on the NFIP debt and reinvests savings towards mitigation efforts to restore the program to solvency and reduce future borrowing

Limits on Private Insurance Company Profits. Caps Write Your Own (WYO) compensation at the rate FEMA pays to service its own policies and redirects the savings to pay for the means-tested affordability program.

Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) Coverage.  Increases the maximum limit for ICC coverage to better reflect the costs of rebuilding and implementing mitigation projects. In addition, ICC coverage eligibility is expanded in order to encourage more proactive mitigation before natural disasters strike.

Strong Investments in Mitigation.  Provides robust funding levels for cost-effective investments in mitigation, which have a large return on investment and are the most effective way to reduce flood risk. 

More Accurate Mapping.  Authorizes funding for Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology for more accurate mapping of flood risk across the country, reducing confusion and generating better data.

Oversight of Write Your Own (WYO) Companies.  Creates new oversight measures for insurance companies and vendors, and provides FEMA with greater authority to terminate contractors that have a track record of abuse.

Claims and Appeals Process Reforms Based on Lessons from Sandy. Fundamentally reforms the claims process based on lessons learned in Superstorm Sandy and other disasters, to level the playing field for policyholders during appeal or litigation, bans aggressive legal tactics preventing homeowners from filing legitimate claims, holds FEMA to strict deadlines so that homeowners get quick and fair payments, and ends FEMA’s reliance on outside legal counsel from expensive for-profit entities.

Better Training.  Provides for increased training and certification of agents and adjusters to reduce mistakes and improve the customer experience.

“As we reflect on the devastating toll that Superstorm Sandy brought to the shores of New Jersey seven years ago, we must remember that many families are still recovering from this historic storm, and many more communities are still vulnerable to future storms,” said Sen. Booker.  “This legislation is critical to protecting our residents from flooding and extreme weather connected to climate change.  I will continue to fight for federal reforms that will make New Jersey stronger and more resilient in the future.”

“My constituents know firsthand how critical comprehensive flood insurance is for New Jersey.  That’s why I introduced the National Flood Insurance Reauthorization and Reform Act in the House of Representatives, which has been co-sponsored by the entire New Jersey delegation,” Rep. Pallone said.  “I’m committed to a long-term reauthorization of this critical program for at least five years that lowers the cap on annual premium increases to no more than nine percent, reduces private insurance company compensation, and institutes policyholder protection and fairness provisions to ensure homeowners are treated fairly during the claims process.  To protect homeowners, our bill requires FEMA to certify engineers so that we put an end to false engineering reports and would prohibit the egregious insurance company practice of denying flooding claims due to so-called earth movement that happens during the flood.  It’s time for Congress to pass these commonsense reforms, and I’m committed to working with my colleagues to get the job done.” 

“It may be seven years since Hurricane Sandy destroyed homes and businesses across New Jersey, but I have never forgotten the hardships New Jerseyans have faced in its aftermath,” said Rep. Pascrell. “We stood strong to fight for the federal funds needed to rebuild and make our communities whole again. But even now there are still those who need help.  And we must be prepared for another storm. I continue to work side-by-side with Senator Menendez and my colleagues in the New Jersey delegation to make needed improvements to the national flood insurance program based on the lessons we learned from Sandy. I will not rest for a minute until we can ensure this program is affordable and easier to navigate.”

“It breaks my heart when families tell me they are still not in their homes after Superstorm Sandy,” Rep. Andy Kim (N.J.-03) said.  “These families don’t need the anniversary of the storm for a reminder of the tragedy; they live it every day.  To those of you whose homes were damaged, to those of you scammed by fraud or treated unfairly, to those of you worried about the next storm or flood, I promise you I will keep fighting for you and your families.”

In August, Sen. Menendez met in Wildwood with southern Jersey Shore mayors, residents and business owners to discuss the need for comprehensive NFIP reforms.

Sen. Menendez first exposed the problem of widespread lowballing of flood insurance claims during Congressional hearings he chaired in 2014, and then successfully pushed FEMA to reopen every Sandy flood insurance claim for review, which compensated Sandy victims with more than $260 million in additional payments they were initially denied.

Sen. Menendez authored the Superstorm Sandy Relief and Disaster Loan Program Improvement Act, which extended and expanded access to federal disaster loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).  His Homeowner’s Flood Insurance Affordability Act was signed into law in 2014 to address skyrocketing rates many Sandy survivors were encountering.  In 2013, he shepherded the original $60 billion federal Sandy aid package through Congress. 

 

###