“Your government failed you.” These were the words spoken by Senator Bob Menendez during his opening comments of the Sandy Task Force meeting in Washington, DC on April 28, 2015. The purpose of the task force, according to Menendez, will be to bring justice to Sandy survivors and to fix the claims process for future claimants. The task force is comprised of New Jersey Senators Bob Menendez and Corey Booker, New York Senators Chuck Shumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, FEMA Deputy Administrator Brad Keiserman, and several non-profit groups working with Sandy victims.
During the meeting, the Senators and representatives of the non-profit groups took turns criticizing FEMA for the way the Sandy flood claims were handled, but praising both Fugate and Keiserman for their response once the issues became publicized. The most informative portion of the meeting was Brad Keiserman’s description of the reopening of all of Sandy flood claims, which is being called the “Sandy Claims Review.”
The Sandy Claims Review will send letters to the last known address of flood claimants. Any mail returned to FEMA will be used to create a list of claimants who have moved or are still displaced. FEMA will use secondary efforts, as well as enlisting the media’s help, to attempt to locate the claimants. The claimants will be advised to submit certain information for additional payments. FEMA stated that the bar will be low enough so as not to be egregious but defensible from FEMA’s standpoint. It is still unclear what documents will be required. FEMA plans to first send letters to claimants whose claim included a report from one of the questionable engineering firms, then to all other claimants with engineering issues, then finally to all other claims. Additionally, there will be an appeals procedure to an independent, neutral 3rd party. Keiserman indicated that he will retain veto power over the appeals process, but that would only be exercised in rare circumstances and that his default would be to pay the claim as determined by the neutral.
Perhaps the most important bit of news to come out of this meeting is that both FEMA and the Senators are looking at doing away with the earth movement exclusion. As per Craig Fugate, this was put in place to curtail costs to the NFIP program, however it was never envisioned that such a mass disaster would result in so many claims denied under the exclusion. I would anticipate this exclusion will be under a great deal of scrutiny in the coming months. All in all, the meeting was productive and encouraging and it seems like things might be going in the right direction.