When FEMA initially announced the Hurricane Sandy claims review process it gave a gleam of hope to those policyholders who had been wronged in the past. However, now over eight months into the program, that gleam of hope has turned into stress and frustration. Once again policyholders find themselves at the mercy of a government agency and disappointed by those who are supposed to come to their aid. Rather than providing an expeditious program designed to cure the many wrongs of the past, the Sandy claims review program has become a cumbersome and protracted process.
I constantly receive calls and correspondence from clients, asking for a status of their claim. Unfortunately, FEMA Caseworkers have generally been non-responsive. There is one caseworker that has failed to provide a single decision since the program started. Emails and correspondence go unanswered for months. And when I tell our clients I have no update, their response is frustration followed by comments such as “There’s nothing that can be done?” “This started in the Fall of 2015. How much longer?” “There’s got to be someone that can help.” One client went as far as stating that she would have “preferred they left it alone, rather than making her relive it all over again.” She didn’t want to deal with the paper work, the delays, the stress, the frustration of dealing with the system all over again.
After reading the article “N.J. Congressman Tom MacArthur Claims FEMA Still is Wrongfully Denying Superstorm Sandy Claims”1 it became apparent that our clients’ frustrations and complaints are not unique. According to Congressman MacArthur, FEMA is engaged in a “systematic effort” to continue to “wrongfully deny the claims of Sandy Victims.” In addition, according to a FEMA whistleblower, Jeff Coolidge, “[t]his process is designed to underpay.” Based upon the few offers we have received on behalf of our clients, I concur with this statement. For example, we had a claim of $181,270.44 for which we received an offer of $5,185.88. On another instance, we had a claim of $98,981.50, for which we received an offer of $12,154.39. But even more astounding is the number of cases for which we have yet to receive any offer/response whatsoever. We request status updates on behalf of our clients on a regular basis, to which we receive vague responses such as “in progress.” Often we receive no response.
We voiced our concerns to a FEMA Supervisor during a conference, to which we were promised relief. Instead, the next communication we received was another set of instructions and more email address to include in our requests for status. We recently requested another conference call with FEMA Supervisors, but have yet to receive a response.
Furthermore, the program seems completely one-sided. For example, policyholders had until October 15, 2015, to request a review. If not, they would be out of time. Thereafter, “[i]f FEMA is unable to contact the policyholder for 30 days, the review process will be suspended.”2 Conversely, the policyholder has no recourse when FEMA fails to respond in a reasonable time and manner.
As Congressman MacArthur stated, there seems to be a pattern of delay and underpayment and someone needs to be accountable. We share the frustration of our clients and seek to get these cases resolved as quickly as possible. There has to be oversight; there has to be accountability. It is almost four years since Hurricane Sandy. Enough is enough.
Hopefully, there will be changes within FEMA that will bring these claims to a resolution and make these Sandy victims whole.
1 Steven A. Meyerowitz, Esq., Director, FC&S Legal, “N.J. Congressman Tom MacArthur Claims FEMA Still is Wrongfully Denying Superstorm Sandy Claims” FC&S Legal (paid subscription), May 2, 2016, last viewed on June 8, 2016.