PHOTO: U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand had reasons to smile this week. Photo Courtesy of New York State Democrats
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended the Superstorm Sandy flood insurance claim review process an additional 30 days, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development indicated that it will waive its policy mandating a “duplication of benefits” assessment for Sandy victims who receive $20,000 or less from FEMA, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced on Wednesday.
FEMA had set a deadline of Sept. 15 for eligible homeowners to file to have their insurance claims reviewed. Earlier this year, the CBS television news magazine “60 Minutes” detailed how private engineering companies purposefully altered engineering reports so as to not fully reflect the true impact and damage caused by Sandy to New Yorkers’ homes, which led to the unjust denial or underpayment of flood insurance claims.
Hundreds of flood-damage reports were allegedly falsified, and both engineering firms and insurance companies are under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for possible criminal conduct.
According to Schumer, for the minority of cases that remain, HUD will look at each individually and determine if there is a potential duplication of benefits, an assessment they promised the senior New York senator would be done by the Community Development Block grantees with significant flexibility —and one that could still allow a complete waiver of the duplication of benefits analysis to occur if the duplication is determined to be $20,000 or less.
Under its current policy, HUD mandates that each recipient that receives National Flood Insurance Policy settlement funds from FEMA and also received CDBG from NY Rising or Build it Back have their flood insurance settlement “re-reviewed” to identify any “duplication of benefits.” This assessment, Schumer said, would be burdensome to homeowners who have waited years to receive the flood insurance protection they were entitled to;“not to mention that the Duplication of Benefits assessment would likely cost more to conduct than the funds that would ultimately be recouped.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who worked at HUD during the Clinton administration, hailed the department’s new course of action.
“Today’s decision by HUD to forgive most duplication of benefit reviews for Sandy victims will provide much-needed peace of mind to many New Yorkers. It would have been unacceptable and unfair to ask New Yorkers to clean up a mess they didn’t create, and to slow down Build it Back after our overhaul put the program on track. This decision will allow most Sandy impacted homeowners—who have already been through so much—to keep their flood insurance settlements without worrying about potential clawbacks. We appreciate HUD heeding our calls and taking this important step.”
By Michael V. Cusenza firstname.lastname@example.org