SCHUMER, GILLIBRAND REVEAL: SANDY VICTIMS WHO ENTERED FEMA FLOOD INSURANCE-REVIEW PROCESS MONTHS AGO ARE STILL WAITING FOR CLAIMS TO BE PROCESSED; FEMA FOOT-DRAG MEANS LESS THAN 5 PERCENT OF THE 17,000 SUBMITTED SANDY CLAIMS HAVE BEEN RE-REVIEWED; SENATORS DEMAND SWIFT REVIEW OF EVERY CASE
FEMA Also Saying If Policyholders Do Not Supply & Other Information to Review Process Within Short 14-Day Period, Their Cases Will Be Closed; Schumer & Gillibrand Urges FEMA to Immediately Work With All Policyholders Who Have Not Yet Submitted Pertinent Info to Agency & To Get Going On Backlog
Schumer, Gillibrand Says Major Backlog of FEMA’s Claims Review Process is Deeply Disturbing & That Deadline On Homeowners Is Hasty and Totally Unfair – Given Agency Cannot Meet Its Own Commitments To Claimants
Schumer, Gillibrand: Flood Of Unprocessed Claims Reviews Must Be Solved Now & No Pending Cases Should Be Closed Until Policyholder Confirms They Are Not Participating
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand revealed today that, only 700 cases submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Superstorm Sandy National Flood Insurance Program Claims Review Process have been closed, representing less than 5 percent of the total claims that have been submitted for re-review. Just as troubling, says Schumer and Gillibrand, is the fact that more than half of the 17,000 submitted cases to be reviewed by FEMA have been in the program for more than 90 days, and more than a third of the claims have been in the program and gone unresolved for more than 120 days. In a letter to FEMA, Schumer and Gillibrand today said that they are deeply disturbed by this information because FEMA had initially said that those who entered the Claims Review Process would receive a resolution of their claim within 90 days. The Senators today urged FEMA to dedicate adequate attention, resources and staff to address these delays and rectify what is clearly an example of the agency overpromising and under-delivering.
“We know from brutal experience that the flood insurance program was broken and denied countless Sandy victims timely and just payments on their claims. This is a travesty that FEMA promised to rectify with its Flood Insurance Program Claims Review Process, but the bottom line is that it is failing miserably to promptly and fairly review and pay many thousands of unjustly denied policyholders’ claims,” said Senator Schumer. “FEMA has reviewed and closed a paltry 5% submitted claims. This is maddening – and not acceptable, which is why I am demanding that FEMA address these issues, eliminate the backlog and work closely with policyholders until not one case is left in the docket.
“Moreover, it’s not fair for FEMA to close a policyholder’s pending case if the individual is not heard from over a 2-week period. FEMA should be more proactive and flexible, and not close any case without affirmatively confirming with the claimant that they are not participating in the process,” added Schumer.
“It is unacceptable that three years after Superstorm Sandy tore through our communities, and months after it came to light that homeowners were underpaid by FEMA based on fraudulently altered engineering reports, New Yorkers continue to face a slow, burdensome, and backlogged process to have their flood insurance claims reviewed,” said Senator Gillibrand. “FEMA must do better so that New Yorkers who have been forced to endure this endless red tape since Superstorm Sandy and are still struggling to rebuild can begin to put their lives back together.”
Schumer and Gillibrand today also urged FEMA to provide clear guidance to policyholders who have applied to the program to have their claim reviewed but, according to FEMA have not yet submitted all necessary information that FEMA needs to review their claim. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that FEMA recently said that it will send follow-up letters to policyholders that the agency is still waiting on – and if there is no response, FEMA will close the case within 14 days, a policy that they said was too rigid. For instance, policyholders are often asked to send information on their claim, further documentation and/or the PII release to allow the adjuster to begin reviewing their claim.
Schumer and Gillibrand went on to say that in some instances, policyholders may still be gathering documentation and information needed to submit their claim and stated that, “Given the circumstances, FEMA should be flexible.” Therefore, Schumer and Gillibrand are urging FEMA to work with policyholders who have signed up for the Claims Review Process and, prior to closing out any claims, they urged the agency to affirmatively confirm that the policyholder no longer seeks to participate in the program.
In May, FEMA set up the Superstorm Sandy National Flood Insurance Program Claims Review Process and established a program through which Sandy victims could seek to have their claims re-reviewed. FEMA has said the review process will take 90 days. According to FEMA, as of October 22nd, over 700 claims were closed; 8,733 cases have been in review for more than 90 days; 5,576 have been in review for more than 120 days.
Schumer and Gillibrand today said that resolution of these claims is taking far too long, likely due to a variety of issues. In the letter, Schumer and Gillibrand said that regardless of whether the program was understaffed at the outset or has been forced to reassign the same case to multiple adjustors, FEMA must be committed to addressing these issues and ensure that homeowners receive the fair amount of flood insurance funds they are entitled to in a 90 day period, as promised by the agency.
A copy of Senator Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter to FEMA Administrator Fugate is below:
Over the past several months my office has heard from constituents who have signed up to have their flood insurance claim reviewed in the Sandy Claims Review Process (the Review Process). Specifically, these individuals have stated that despite entering the Review Process months ago, they were still waiting to receive a resolution of their claim. As you know, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set up the Review Process in May of this past year, FEMA executives informed Sandy victims that those who entered the Review Process would receive a resolution of their claim within 90 days. This timeline was laid out for policyholders and based upon the promise that the Review Process would resolve claims fairly and generously and not replicate the bureaucratic inefficiencies that plagued the FEMA Appeals Process that so many of these homeowners went through initially. So, we were deeply disturbed when my office received information from FEMA, confirming these constituent complaints, and informing me that over 50% of the 17,000 claims submitted for review have failed to be resolved within 90 days and over 32% of these claims have been unresolved for 120 days.
The bottom line is that these delays are unacceptable. FEMA must do whatever is necessary to address this issue immediately and rectify what is clearly an example of the agency over promising and under delivering. Our offices have been informed of a variety of issues contributing to the significant delays with the Claims Review Process and regardless of whether the program was understaffed at the outset or has been forced to reassign the same case to multiple adjusters, FEMA must be committed to addressing all of these issues and ensuring that homeowners finally receive the flood insurance funds that they are entitled to and have waited far too long to receive. FEMA has the sole responsibility of ensuring that the program is properly staffed, operating effectively, and that the appropriate individuals have the decision-making authority to resolve these matters without unnecessary delays. The fact that less than 5% of the total number of claims in the Review Process have been closed out after 5 months are results that should not be tolerated by you and won’t be tolerated by me.
In addition to this issue of significant delays, FEMA has informed our offices that if an adjuster does not receive information that they deem is necessary to take further action on the claim that claim will be closed out 14 days following the policyholder’s receipt of a letter or email informing them of the outstanding information needed. We have serious concerns with this new policy for several reasons. First, FEMA is obligated to work with policyholders that have signed up for the Review Process and prior to closing out any claims should affirmatively confirm with a policyholder that they no longer seek to participate in the program. A policyholder that may be waiting to receive a copy of a document that reflects damage that occurred three years ago should not be removed from the program simply because they are unable to provide this document within 14 days. FEMA ensured Sandy victims that this Review Process would be flexible and accommodative. Therefore, adjusters must also be committed to working with policyholders and accept the information and documentation that is reasonable to be obtained three years after Sandy. FEMA must also understand that such documentation may take time to obtain and therefore, should refrain from removing any of these claims for the review process absent confirmation from the policyholder that they would like to be removed.
Next, FEMA has a responsibility to ensure that once documents and information have been provided by a policyholder that information is transferred to any additional reviewer in the Claims Review Process. Homeowners should not be obligated to provide documentation to multiple adjusters because FEMA has been forced to reassign that individual’s case to a new adjuster.
Last, FEMA must provide policyholders in the Review Process with a clear understanding of exactly what the agency it believes is outstanding and necessary for an adjuster to move forward in processing a claim. Policyholders should be provided with clear guidance and standards for what documentation or information is acceptable, as well as an explanation of what the information is and how it could possibly be obtained.
Based on these numbers and trends it is undeniable that several elements of the Claims Review Process are not working effectively and these issues must be addressed immediately. Our offices and others continue to be willing partners to assist in identifying and resolving these issues, but given the commitments that FEMA made to Sandy victims five months ago, we will not sit idly by as claims go unresolved for months and participants are left guessing where things stand. We trust that you will act swiftly to address these concerns and set up the necessary procedures to ensure that every claimant is dealt with fairly and generously. After three years, that is the least they deserve.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand