by Laura Schofer
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York State’s Housing Recovery Program will fully compensate homeowners affected by Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and Superstorm Sandy for the repair costs of damage to their homes due to earth movement.
Under FEMA’s existing National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) regulations, damage caused by the movement of soil or earth – even if the movement is the result of flooding – is not eligible for coverage. In comparison, physical damage to a building caused directly by flood waters is covered under NFIP. As a result of this gap in coverage, many Long Island homeowners have had their NFIP claims denied or greatly reduced. Many still have no permanent housing or the resources to rebuild.
“Over the last few years, we experienced three once-in-a-century storms that wreaked an unprecedented level of devastation in communities across the state,” Governor Cuomo said in a press release. “It simply does not make sense that some New Yorkers who were just as hard hit by the same storms as others cannot be compensated for their losses,” he said, referring to the earth movement clause found in the National Flood Insurance Program. “That is why the state is stepping up to bridge this unfair gap in insurance coverage. Under our Housing Recovery Program, homeowners will be fully compensated for all repairs of damage.”
“Wow! At the moment I am truly overcome with joy,” Michele Mittleman wrote in a post to Friends of Wantagh and Seaford. Ms. Mittleman, who founded the Facebook group Sandy Victims Fighting FEMA after she was denied full coverage to her damaged Freeport home due to earth movement, added, “Governor Cuomo has brilliantly stepped in to help us in New York, but New Jersey residents have yet to be helped by Governor Christie.”
According to Ms. Mittleman “FEMA has fraudulently denied flood coverage to an estimated 20,000 homeowners in New York and New Jersey, leaving us homeless with a mortgage.”
New York reaches out to homeowners
“Many New Yorkers were hopeful that they would be covered since they had purchased flood insurance,” said Director of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, Seth Diamond. “However, they were unaware of this NFIP rule regarding earth movements. As a result, these homeowners did not receive the assistance they were seeking, and many who did not have the resources to rebuild on their own are still not back in their homes. Now, these residents will be eligible to receive funding through the state’s home rebuilding program instead, and their eligible rebuilding costs will be covered.”
The state will continue to conduct outreach to homeowners to ensure that those interested can apply for assistance. In addition, the Office of Storm Recovery will provide technical assistance to the communities under the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program to evaluate and determine if local resiliency measures could assist with limiting the impact of earth movements.
In Freeport the planning committee, which includes community activists and village department chiefs, have met and identified “assets, strengths and weaknesses,” said member Rob Weltner. “There is a tremendous amount of knowledge here and this gives us [Freeport] a real advantage in assessing how we can be more resilient, how we can recover faster from these storms in the future.”
Mr. Weltner said that one of the things that needs to be addressed is that “the Department of Public Works is at ground zero. This is a huge liability. We need to do something about that.”
Freeport’s Department of Public Works is located in the most southern section of the village in a flood zone in the Industrial Park. “Residents depend upon the services of DPW, especially when a storm hits,” explained Mr. Weltner. “Think about it – these are the guys who remove trees when lines go down and collect garbage. The fuel tanks [for village vehicles including fire equipment and police vehicles] are down there too.”
The public will be invited to a forum on October 16 to learn about the New York Rising Community Reconstruction program in Freeport and to share ideas with the planning committee. The time and place was still undetermined at press time.
For more information call 1-855-697-7263 or visit www.stormrecovery.ny.gov.
On the federal level
In the meantime, the federal government has not responded to the request to remove the earth movement exclusion from NFIP.
“Craig Fugate [FEMA administrator] is in charge of a claims department that has fraudulently denied valid flood claims using the earth movement exclusion in a fashion Congress never intended,” wrote Mrs. Mittleman. “He allows his spokespeople to report that over 95% of flood claims have been closed to give the appearance that they have fairly handled flood claims when the truth is that their files can be reported closed after making minimal payments, far below their actual value.”
However, there has been some movement in the Senate to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, although not specifically to address the earth movement exclusion. Last week The Leader reported that Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has introduced legislation – the Strengthen, Modernize and Reform the National Flood Insurance Program Act or SMART NFIP – to prevent FEMA from raising rates on “grandfathered” National Flood Insurance Program Policies. The legislation would delay premium increases and repeal provisions that prevent new owners of homes within a flood zone from continuing to purchase flood insurance at the subsidized rates.
Additionally, there is a new online petition called “Repeal the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 which will devalue people’s properties and/or force them to leave their homes because they won’t be able to afford the insurance. It will cause many more foreclosures. It will also render these people’s homes almost worthless and communities to be abandoned,” it reads. The petition was started on September 28; at press time 48 people had signed it from New York, New Jersey and Louisiana. Go to www.petitions.whitehouse. gov.
Locally, at the urging of a bipartisan group of federal officials, FEMA has granted a six-month extension for thousands of Sandy-impacted homeowners to file flood insurance claims. The deadline to file a proof of Loss Form will be extended to April 29, 2014.