Nearly 1,000 superstorm Sandy victims have registered to have their flood insurance claims reviewed in the first week since the federal government launched its sweeping effort to determine whether homeowners were underpaid after the 2012 storm.
The National Flood Insurance Program has agreed to review up to 142,000 claims filed by storm victims from North Carolina to Maine after widespread allegations that they were systematically shortchanged.
"Policy holders have been put through the wringer," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference Friday in Long Beach. "It just boils my blood."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the flood insurance program, began sending letters last week to homeowners, directing them to sign up for the review process within 90 days. Storm victims can register online at fema.gov, or by calling a toll-free number, 866-337-4262.
Brad Kieserman, FEMA's deputy associate administrator for insurance, said at the news conference that homeowners who want their claims reviewed should not wait for a letter to register. No one should need a lawyer to navigate the process, he said.
"You should not need to sue to get every dollar you are entitled to," said Kieserman, who was appointed in February to head up reforms at the flood insurance program.
The effort to reopen claims comes after private companies hired by Washington to process claims were accused of forging documents to deny settlements. The allegations have led to a criminal probe and the departure of two top flood insurance officials.
To undertake the review, FEMA has trained more than 600 people to field calls from policy holders. After a brief interview, FEMA will give homeowners two weeks to submit documents proving they were underpaid.
If homeowners don't have receipts, the agency will accept sworn statements for expenses up to $7,500 per claim.
The agency has hired a Washington-based consultant company -- Optimal Solutions and Technologies -- to recruit 140 adjusters to review the claims. Next week, FEMA plans to hire a second company to convene a panel of retired judges and others to double check claims for homeowners who disagree with the outcome of their review.
Kieserman said the entire process should take fewer than 90 days. "We want to make sure you get what you are entitled to," he said.