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Gillibrand asks FEMA to reconsider flood policy exclusions

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., listens to a fellow

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., listens to a fellow senator speak to reporters about a bill regarding sexual assault in the military on Capitol Hill in Washington. (July 16, 2013) Credit: AP

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand met with the head of FEMA Thursday to complain that hundreds of superstorm Sandy victims have wrongly had their federal flood insurance claims rejected.

Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said her conversation with FEMA director Craig Fugate focused on a little-known provision in some policies that excludes coverage of losses caused by "earth movement" -- even if that movement was caused by a flood.

"Families' homes were destroyed because of the flood. They paid for flood insurance; they should be reimbursed," Gillibrand said after the meeting in Washington.

Despite pressure from the senator, there was no indication FEMA is going to change its policy.

Federal Emergency Management Authority spokesman Dan Watson previously said the agency is following the letter of the law in issuing the denials. Some of those homes may have had problems that existed before Sandy, he said.

FEMA officials had no immediate comment on the meeting with Gillibrand.

At least 1,200 homeowners -- many of them in New York -- have had their claims denied because of the provision, according to Gillibrand.

She said she asked Fugate Thursday to review all of the "earth movement"-related denials.

Fugate instead reminded her that homeowners have the right to appeal and should do so if they aren't satisfied, the senator said.

Gillibrand said afterward that she will ask officials in Nassau and Suffolk counties to assist homeowners in preparing appeals by helping them obtain the services of engineers.

FEMA spokesman Dan Watson has said that the agency administers the National Flood Insurance Program at the discretion of Congress, and by law the Standard Flood Insurance Policy only covers direct physical loss to buildings by flooding.

Damage caused by a surge of floodwater can scour around foundations or undermine a slab, directly damaging the foundation, he said. By law, the policy does not cover earth movement, including destabilization caused by nearby flooding, he said.

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