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Sandy victims advised on reopening flood claims

Elizabeth Sullivan, of Oakdale, was one of the

Elizabeth Sullivan, of Oakdale, was one of the Sandy victims who came to learn about reopening their FEMA claims during a workshop in West Islip, Aug. 15, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

Elizabeth Sullivan is weighing whether to reopen her flood insurance claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Superstorm Sandy hit the Oakdale home that Sullivan, 57, shared with her husband Richard, 72, filling it with several feet of standing water. After rebuilding and raising the property, she is apprehensive about undertaking yet another task.

"They have these deductibles, depreciations. . . . All these limitations that make it very cumbersome," she said Saturday at an information session on reopening FEMA claims held in East Islip.

"You kind of feel like you did something wrong to go and try to fill in the gaps that the flood policy has."

Jason M. Gauss, an attorney with Washington, D.C.-based Weisbrod Matteis & Copley PLLC, which in the last two weeks has organized eight question-and-answer sessions across Long Island about reopening claims, said FEMA hopes flood victims' frustration leads to inaction.

"They're banking on the fact that people are tired. People don't want to fight anymore," he said. "It's now three years after the storm. You just want to put it behind you."

In May, FEMA announced that about 142,000 National Flood Insurance Program policy holders could have their Sandy claims reviewed -- if they felt they were underpaid, had not pursued litigation, nor received the maximum sums under their policy -- by calling 866-337-4262. The deadline for the review is Sept. 15.

FEMA's announcement came after dozens of homeowners filed lawsuits, accusing private companies hired by the government-run insurance program of forging property damage reports to deny claims.

At Saturday's meeting, Gauss said initial flood insurance adjustments could also be inaccurate because some adjusters did not properly scope the work or include overhead and profit at 10 percent each, or sales tax and New York prices in their assessments.

Reopening the claim extends to structural damage, debris removal, costs associated with raising a home -- an automatic reimbursement of $30,000 -- and contents (if contents coverage was part of the policy), he said.

"When people hear contents, they usually think of big ticket items -- sofas, refrigerators," said Gauss. "But you'd be shocked as to how much your claim could increase by including all the little things -- the mustard in your refrigerator."

Louis Delesia, 61, of Islip, who attended the meeting, said he hesitated at first on reopening his claim because he received assistance from New York Rising on his home, along a canal, which had to be gutted to the studs.

"New York Rising just says, 'There's duplication of funds. If the flood insurance plan gives you money, then you owe us more money,' " he said, adding that it was reassuring to hear there may be a way to apply an additional FEMA adjustment directly to his mortgage.

Delesia said he relied on the help of family and friends to rebuild his home, for which he doesn't have receipts.

Gauss said FEMA is allowing homeowners to submit an affidavit saying they have undocumented and unreimbursed expenses, for up to $7,500.


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