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Schumer blasts FEMA on slow flood claims

After a news conference to discuss helping those

After a news conference to discuss helping those who filed flood claims after superstorm Sandy, Sen. Charles Schumer surveys the damage at the Lindenhurst home of Maryanne Collins, Samantha Collins and Donald Werle. (Feb. 11, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

Sen. Charles Schumer Monday blasted the Federal Emergency Management Agency's handling of flood insurance claims from superstorm Sandy, saying it's a "disgrace" that thousands of New Yorkers are still waiting for settlements.

Speaking at a partially gutted house in Lindenhurst, Schumer (D-N.Y.) blamed FEMA for not putting enough pressure on private insurers' processing claims for the government-run flood insurance program. Consequently, the companies have been "slacking," Schumer said, leaving families unable to rebuild.

"The flood insurance program is not getting people money quickly enough," Schumer said. "If these private insurance companies can't do a better job, FEMA should penalize them."

A FEMA spokesman said the agency is working as quickly as possible. As of Monday, it had settled 64 percent of the 56,324 flood claims filed in New York State, leaving about 20,000 families waiting for full payments.

Donald Werle, who hosted Schumer at his flood-ravaged home in Lindenhurst Monday, said he has received just $20,000 of what he hopes will be a $190,000 flood settlement.

"We have laid out as much money as we can from our own pockets," said Werle, 50, an auto mechanic. "We have no more paddles . . . and the rowboat is filling up."

Some homeowners have delayed rebuilding. Others have taken loans or used their own money to pay for repairs as they wait for their flood settlements.

Tony Esposito, 75, cashed out $83,000 in stock to rebuild his Massapequa home after paying premiums for 15 years to the flood insurance program. "I've received zero from them," said Esposito, a retired banker.

Standard homeowners insurance policies don't provide flood coverage because private insurers consider it too risky. So the government offers protection through FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program.

While the federal government holds the risk, private companies including Allstate, Travelers and other major insurers administer the program, selling policies, collecting payments and adjusting claims. Combined, these private companies keep about $1 billion of the $2.3 billion they collect in flood premiums each year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Among the largest is Wright Flood, a subsidiary of Uniondale-based Wright Insurance Group, which has closed about 60 percent of its 7,500 Sandy claims in New York State.

"We have all hands on deck," said Dolores Glass, a company spokeswoman. "We are doing all that we can to swiftly and comprehensibly settle all those claims."

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