WASHINGTON, DC - At a Senate hearing chaired today by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate acknowledged problems with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims process and committed to devising solutions to help expedite recovery for Sandy victims.

"We have, in my view, a process and a standard that is stacked against policyholders," Sen. Menendez told Administrator Fugate as he testified before the Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development. "I don't want anybody getting a dime they shouldn't get; at the same token, I don't want a policyholder who's done the right thing for ten, 20, 30 years, in some cases, getting low-balled because the process is stacked against them."

Fugate announced that he has asked the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General to investigate issues with the claims process and said he would explore administrative remedies.

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During testimony, Sen. Menendez exposed several glaring problems which tilt the federal flood insurance claims process against the homeowner:

  • The system does not create meaningful penalties for insurance servicing companies that lowball homeowners, while imposing strong, tangible penalties for overpayments
  • A double-standard exists in the appeals process in which homeowners are forced to adhere to strict arbitrary deadlines imposed by FEMA while FEMA admittedly failed to follow their own guidelines
  • The failure to establish a homeowner flood insurance advocate that was authorized in the Menendez "Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act" has left homeowners in the dark, with no entity to help them through the claim or appeal process at a time when they are under extreme personal distress
  • FEMA lacks the capabilities to provide proper oversight and performance checks on the system in order to identify and address potential problems.

"We have the ultimate hypocrisy and double-standard here," the Senator told Fugate. "You don't have to live under the deadline and there's no consequence to the agency for not meeting the deadline, but there is a consequence for the policyholder for not meeting the deadline. That's when people think poorly of their government."

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Prior to the hearing, Sen. Menendez visited the Toms River, N.J. home of Doug Quinn, a single father of two whose family remains displaced 21 months after Sandy due in part to being low-balled by FEMA and his private carrier and an endless flood insurance claims runaround. Despite several assessments appraising the damage to his home at up to $254,000 and having $250,000 in coverage, he received a settlement check of only $92,000-not nearly enough to repair his home and get his life back on track. The Quinns' story is just one of hundreds of similar constituent complaints pouring into the Senator's office.

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Also testifying today were: Donald Griffin, Vice President of Personal Lines, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America; and Maryann Flannigan, Supervising Attorney, New Jersey Legal Services Hurricane Sandy Legal Assistance Project.