The director of the National Flood Insurance Program came to Long Island on Monday and urged superstorm Sandy victims to sign up to have their claims reviewed if they suspect they were underpaid.
Standing on the boardwalk in Long Beach, Roy Wright said it's clear the program shortchanged an untold number of homeowners after the 2012 storm. In response, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is giving flood insurance policyholders until Sept. 15 to register to reopen their claim.
"We should have got this right the first time," said Wright, FEMA's deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation.
Roughly 12,500, or about 9 percent of the 142,000 eligible homeowners, have signed up for the review. FEMA launched the effort in May after homeowners accused private companies hired by the federal government of forging documents to deny settlements. The allegations have led to a criminal probe and the departure of two top flood insurance officials.
FEMA plans to spend roughly $40 million -- not including payments to homeowners -- to run the sweeping process, saying it's critical to restore the program's credibility.
Yet advocates for Sandy victims say many homeowners are wary. Some suspect the process is rigged. Others are tired of red tape. And some fear larger insurance payouts could force them to return federal disaster assistance grants.
Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who was among the elected officials accompanying Wright on the boardwalk, urged storm victims to give the review process a chance, saying they can always drop out later.
Wright, who said he was considering requests from elected officials to extend the Sept. 15 deadline, said he expected registrations to surge in the coming weeks.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said the process could be crucial for storm victims to finally rebuild. "Unfortunately," she said, "many of our friends and our neighbors and families are still fighting to get back into their homes."