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After Sandy fraud, FEMA must restore public trust

People gather in front of Babylon Town hall

People gather in front of Babylon Town hall for a rally in support of National Stop FEMA Day. South Shore communities are rallying against the increase in flood insurance premiums and are making demands of the national flood insurance program. (Sept. 28, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

Now that a top official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency has acknowledged that some superstorm Sandy victims were denied flood insurance settlements because of fraudulent engineering reports, the way forward for FEMA is clear: Pay up.

And then fix FEMA so it never happens again.

Similar problems arose in the chaotic aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina; now the agency must take steps to ensure that survivors of the next catastrophic storm don't suffer the same experience.

FEMA began negotiations last month to settle some 1,800 lawsuits filed by Sandy homeowners who say they were denied payouts based on damage reports altered by contractors or on reports by unlicensed engineers. Tentative settlements have been reached in about 250 cases. The others now must be resolved, and anyone else cheated of insurance payouts also must be compensated even if they did not file a lawsuit.

Then we need to find out why it took at least 11 months for FEMA to start investigating warnings of falsified reports. The FEMA official tasked with reforming the National Flood Insurance Program said recentlyhe was upset to learn about FEMA's lack of response to complaints about fraudulent reports. U.S. Senate leaders should accede to demands for hearings from New York's Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

FEMA needs to change its policies and practices. The deficit of trust in FEMA casts a pall on other dealings with the agency, notably the state's request for FEMA funding for an ocean outfall pipe for the damaged Bay Park sewage treatment plant. FEMA must work diligently to restore faith in the fairness and impartiality of its decisions.