UNION BEACH, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, Chair of the Sandy Task Force, and Cory Booker, Governor Phil Murphy, and U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.-06) today marked the six-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy battering New Jersey. The lawmakers met with Sandy survivors and advocacy groups to celebrate the progress made, and to urge Congress to pass comprehensive, bipartisan legislation known as the Sustainable, Affordable, Fair, and Efficient National Flood Insurance Program (SAFE NFIP) authored by Sen. Menendez. The bill, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Booker and introduced in the House by Rep. Pallone, would remedy the problems of the current flood insurance program that caused so many Sandy survivors to suffer in the wake of the storm.
“When right wing Republicans blocked relief funding, I fought back and brought our region $60 billion to rebuild. When flood insurance premiums were about to spike, I passed a law stopping them, saving homeowners $50 million. When survivors faced frustrating delays from the Christie Administration, I pushed for changes to their botched system so homeowners could get assistance and rebuild quicker,” said Sen. Menendez. “And when survivors came to me with horror stories of being lowballed by their insurance company, I led a Senate investigation that uncovered systemic fraud and abuse, and got homeowners an additional $260 million they were entitled to.”
“I could not be more thankful that now we have a productive partner in the Governor’s office who Senator Booker and I are proud to work and alongside to reallocate federal Sandy dollars to homeowners who still need help getting back in their home,” Sen. Menendez added.
“While we have made progress in the six years since Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, we still have more work to do,” said Sen. Booker. “We already know that NFIP reforms are needed to protect homeowners in New Jersey and across our nation from the waste and mismanagement we witnessed following Sandy’s devastation. That’s why I continue to work closely with Senator Menendez who has led the fight for common sense, bipartisan legislation to help extend coverage to those who need it most while investing in resiliency and mitigation efforts that will help protect New Jersey families from future disasters.”
Sen. Booker recounted a time when he and Sen. Menendez ran into a fellow Democratic senator who wanted to use Sandy funds for their own state’s natural disaster. Sen. Booker said he saw Sen. Menendez “go straight New Jersey on this guy” to ensure “not one penny be taken away from the State of New Jersey.” (Minute 4:05)
“When I look to the future of this state, we need Bob Menendez,” said Sen. Booker.
Announcing changes to the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation (RREM) Program and the Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Homeowner Rebuilding Program, Gov. Murphy said, “With these programs, our objective is to find a path forward for the homeowners who have not finished rebuilding and who find themselves stuck because they don’t have the financial means to move ahead. We want to work with people who are struggling financially to determine what they can realistically contribute, and we want to get them across the finish line so they can return home and get some much-overdue normalcy in their lives.”
“Six years ago, when Superstorm Sandy hit our coast, people lost their lives, homes and businesses were destroyed, and local infrastructure was devastated,” said Rep. Pallone. “I will never forget my first moments on the ground touring the damage Sandy wrought in New Jersey – like the homes that were battered to the ground in Union Beach and the whole business section on Bay Avenue in Highlands that was under water.”
“I knew then that I needed to begin the hard work to bring the necessary support and resources to our state to help New Jersey rebuild, and that is why I fought hard in Congress to pass the Sandy relief package and to secure the aid needed to help victims put their businesses, homes and lives back together. I will continue to work with Senator Menendez and Governor Murphy to pass food insurance reform and whatever is necessary to assist the victims of Sandy and prepare for the next storm,” Rep. Pallone added.
Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pallone first held a roundtable discussion at an Elks Lodge in Belford, NJ with Sandy survivors and representatives from New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP), an advocacy group formed by Superstorm Sandy Survivors.
"Many people don’t even realize their homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding until they have a flood and find out they are on their own. At a time when more people need flood insurance it is getting too expensive. We can’t have families priced out of protection. The SAFE NFIP act works to make flood insurance more affordable, but even more than that it prioritizes making mitigation funding available before a disaster. That means families can be safer, their flood insurance costs go way down, and every dollar spent on mitigation saves taxpayers six dollars after a disaster. But above all, prioritizing mitigation would save families the kind of heartache all of us went through and are still going through because of Sandy," said Krista Sperber, New Jersey Organizing Project member and Belmar resident.
The Sandy survivors at the roundtable directly benefited from Sen. Menendez’s efforts to get them what they deserved after he discovered widespread lowballing on their flood insurance claims. The Senator successfully pressed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reopen all Sandy claims, intimating a review process that led to policyholders getting an additional $300 million to rebuild their homes. SAFE NFIP would ensure survivors of devastating flooding never go through what Sandy survivors experienced after the storm.
The SAFE NFIP Act would extend the federal flood insurance program for six years while instituting a series of sweeping reforms. The bill authorizes significant investment in mitigation and resiliency efforts to reduce flood risk, while addressing critical problems that arose following Superstorm Sandy and other disasters, namely: unsustainability, low participation rates, inaccurate flood maps, an indifference to the benefits of flood control infrastructure, agency mismanagement, unsustainable debt service costs and contractor profiteering.
The Sustainable, Affordable, Fair, and Efficient (SAFE)
NFIP Reauthorization Act of 2017
Long-Term Certainty. Reauthorizes the NFIP for six years, providing certainty for communities.
No Exorbitant Rate Hikes. Ends runaway premium hikes by capping annual increases to 10 percent. Currently, premiums increase by up to 25 percent every year, depressing property values, creating affordability challenges, and discouraging participation in the program.
Cuts Wasteful Expenses to Pay for Investments. Freezes interest payments and establishes new controls for private insurance company compensation in order to reinvest in proactive mitigation efforts and affordability measures, including low-interest loans for homeowners’ mitigation projects and affordability vouchers.
Strong Investments in Mitigation. Provides robust funding levels for large-scale, communitywide mitigation efforts, and mitigation assistance programs, which have a 4:1 return on investment and are the most effective way to reduce flood risk.
Expanded Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) Coverage. Increases the maximum limit for ICC coverage to better reflect the costs of mitigation projects and expands eligibility in order to encourage more proactive mitigation before natural disasters strike.
LiDAR 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. Caps compensation for WYO companies to 22.4 percent of written premiums, 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 after Superstorm Sandy and other disasters, leveling the playing field for policyholders during appeals and litigation by holding FEMA to strict deadlines for payments to homeowners, banning aggressive legal tactics that prevent homeowners from filing legitimate claims and ending 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.
Furthering efforts to ensure fairness and expedite New Jersey’s recovery, Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pallone reintroduced legislation last year to prevent so-called clawbacks of federal disaster assistance from survivors of Superstorm Sandy. Originally introduced in 2015, the legislation was in response to recoupment letters sent by FEMA to recover what it considered overpayments. FEMA has clawed back almost $3 million from more than 750 Sandy survivors.
Sen. Menendez and Rep. Pallone then joined Gov. Murphy and Sen. Booker at the Union Beach Fire Department for a news conference, where Gov. Murphy announced a new $50 million program Sandy survivors can tap to finish rebuilding their homes. Funding for the program originates from the 2013 Sandy relief package that Sen. Menendez fought tirelessly to pass through Congress. Through Gov. Murphy’s program, eligible homeowners can receive funds in the form of a zero-interest, no payment loan that is completely forgiven if the homeowner stays in their home for 15 years.
After Governor Chris Christie made no mention of Superstorm Sandy during his 2015 State of the State address, Sen. Menendez led the Democratic state delegation in a letter pressing Gov. Christie to make changes to the state’s Sandy relief program. The changes were designed to increase the efficiency, accountability, and transparency of the recovery process.
Rebuild by Design, an initiative fueled by Sen. Menendez’s efforts, is aiming to mitigate flood prone areas including Hoboken and the Meadowlands. Hoboken, which is susceptible to flash floods and storm surges, received $230 million from the project for coastal defense. The Meadowlands, including the towns of Little Ferry, Teterboro, Moonachie, South Hackensack, and Carlstadt received $150 million to complete three flood risk reduction projects.
Sens. Menendez and Booker first exposed the problem of widespread lowballing of flood insurance claims during Congressional hearings he chaired in 2014.
Sen. Menendez authored the Superstorm Sandy Relief and Disaster Loan Program Improvement Act, signed into law last November, 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.
January 21, 2021