Menendez, Booker Part of Bipartisan Effort to Reform National Flood Insurance Program - by Juliet Kazhas-Hoch
Eight U.S. senators from coastal states – including Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) – have laid out a framework for sweeping reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program. Last week the lawmakers introduced comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to extend the NFIP for six years while instituting modifications to address the system’s faults.
“Americans deserve a National Flood Insurance Program that is sustainable for taxpayers, affordable for homeowners, and accountable to everyone,” Menendez stated. “If we want a more sustainable system, the answer isn’t to slam homeowners with even higher premiums. This legislation puts the lessons we learned after Superstorm Sandy into action, levels the playing field for policyholders, and attacks the NFIP’s rampant waste and abuse to create real savings and greater investment in mitigation and resiliency efforts to make our residents and communities safer.”
The bill is also cosponsored by Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Menendez, chair of the Sandy Task Force and a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee that oversees the NFIP, pointed out that many property owners are forgoing flood insurance because of rising premiums coupled with the headache, or nightmare, of dealing with the federal program following a natural disaster.
The new proposal, the senators say, would reduce costs for policyholders, while upping the amount spent to prevent damage from future storms. Menendez’s press secretary, Steven Sandberg, explained, “The Sustainable, Affordable, Fair, and Efficient (SAFE) National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 tackles systemic problems with flood insurance, puts it back on solid fiscal ground, and reframes our nation’s entire disaster paradigm to one that focuses more on prevention and mitigation to spare the high cost of rebuilding after flood disasters.
“Congress must reauthorize the NFIP, which expires on Sept. 30, 2017.”
As Booker noted, “This legislation takes common sense steps toward making coverage more affordable, extending coverage to those who need it most, and investing in pre-disaster flood control and mitigation efforts that will help protect New Jersey families.”
SAFE NFIP addresses critical problems with the program – administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency – following Sandy and other disasters, including: unsustainability, low participation rates, inaccurate flood maps, an indifference to the benefits of flood control infrastructure, agency mismanagement, unsustainable debt service costs and contractor profiteering.
In addition to reauthorizing the NFIP for six years, the act would cap annual premium increases at 10 percent, fundamentally revamp the claims process, provide for increased training and certification of agents and adjusters, expand Increased Cost of Compliance coverage, authorize funding for technology for more-accurate flood risk mapping, and ensure investment in mitigation efforts, among other reform measures.
The act has the support of several experts and flood victim advocates, including Susan Marticek, executive director of the Ocean County Long-Term Recovery Group, who believes the legislation “takes into account all of the hard-learned lessons from Sandy, and implements changes that will directly benefit policyholders in the aftermath of a disaster and expedite recovery for the individual as well as the community at large.”
“The pre-disaster aspects of this bill will go a long way to make our communities more resilient and save a tremendous amount of tax dollars in disaster recovery aid,” Marticek added. “The post-disaster reforms show the admirable degree to which Sen. Menendez truly listened to the advocates and Sandy victims on the ground, carrying those lessons into his bill to ensure that disaster victims are at the center of FEMA’s response, and that the failures of the NFIP claims process following Sandy are not replicated in the future. We fully endorse this bill and need it now more than ever.”
Amanda Devecka-Rinear, director of the New Jersey Organizing Project, said the measure is “forward-looking and invests in mitigation and prevention to safeguard families from losing everything, to ensure protection from flood disasters isn’t out of reach, and to make rates more affordable.”
“Flood insurance works only when policyholders’ claims are paid fully and promptly in case of loss,” noted Jay M. Feinman, distinguished professor of law at Rutgers Law School. “This bill gives insurance consumers a fair claims process and effective remedies to guarantee them the protection they have purchased. The reforms in this bill are essential to restore the integrity of the program and keep its promises.”
“This is what bold legislation looks like,” stated George Kasimos, president and founder of StopFEMANow. “Sen. Menendez never forgot the Sandy victims and those along the shore in need of relief. This proposed bill covers all the reforms needed to the NFIP. It is the most policyholder-friendly bill being proposed yet it is fiscally responsible to the budget. This is evident by the widespread support on both sides of the aisle.”
Menendez, who chaired the Sandy Task Force with Booker and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (both D-N.Y.), first exposed the widespread lowballing of flood insurance claims during congressional hearings in 2014, and last year successfully pushed FEMA to reopen every Sandy flood insurance claim for review. The claims review has since compensated Sandy victims more than $230 million in additional payments they were initially denied, Sandberg pointed out.
Menendez authored the Superstorm Sandy Relief and Disaster Loan Program Improvement Act, signed into law last November, which extended and expanded access to federal disaster loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The senator’s Homeowner’s Flood Insurance Affordability Act, meanwhile, was signed into law in 2014 to address the skyrocketing rates many Sandy survivors encountered. In 2013, Menendez shepherded the original $60 billion federal Sandy aid package through Congress.
Now, as Warren wrote in an op-ed she, Menendez, Kennedy, Van Hollen, Rubio and Cochran penned for the Wall Street Journal, “It’s time to come together to pass a long-term, bipartisan NFIP reauthorization that makes much-needed reforms to the flood insurance program. Our bill will make changes that extend affordable flood insurance protection to everyone who needs it and that places more emphasis on better flood mapping, prevention, and resiliency.”
-- Juliet Kaszas-Hoch
Menendez, Other Senators Call for Major Reforms in Flood Insurance Program - by John Reitmeyer, NJ Spotlight
Sandy victims pleased as proposed changes include capping homeowners’ premiums and limiting insurance company profits
The National Flood Insurance Program, which underwrites policies for thousands of New Jersey homeowners, is up for renewal later this year, and a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers is calling for major reforms that incorporate lessons learned in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. The program faced a barrage of criticism after Sandy, including for questionable claims’ denials and delayed payments.
The sweeping changes proposed by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez and other U.S. senators are aimed at making the flood insurance program more responsive to homeowners and taxpayers instead of to private-sector insurance companies and agency contractors.
They include capping annual premium increases that homeowners can face; freezing interest payments that the program owes the federal government for funds that have been borrowed to pay out claims; and limiting profits that private-sector insurance companies can make while underwriting program policies.
The proposed reauthorization also seeks to give the flood insurance program a more preventive approach by offering incentives like low-interests loans for homeowner flood-mitigation projects. It would also encourage the use of more modern flood-mapping technologies.
Learning lessons from Superstorm Sandy
The reform effort won praise yesterday from advocates for New Jersey’s Sandy victims after it was announced during a news conference held in Washington, D.C. The current law authorizing the flood insurance program will expire after a September 30 deadline unless a reauthorization bill is adopted.
“We have to turn the lessons we learned after Sandy into action, and that’s exactly what the (reauthorization) does,” Menendez said during the news conference.
Created nearly 50 years ago, the flood insurance program is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it is not permanently authorized and is instead subject to periodic renewals. More than 230,000 New Jerseyans currently hold flood insurance policies through the agency, and over the past four decades residents here have received almost $6 billion in payments from the agency to help rebuild after devastating storms like 2012’s Sandy.
But the program came under fire in New Jersey in the wake of Sandy as storm victims accused the agency and its contractors of underestimating claims, delaying payments, and wrongly denying policyholders. FEMA eventually agreed in 2015 to reopen the claims of nearly 150,000 Sandy victims to ensure they were treated fairly.
10% cap on annual rise in premiums
Menendez said the proposed reauthorization seeks to ensure that future flooding victims don’t have to face a “manmade disaster” after facing down a natural one like Sandy. “Americans deserve a flood insurance program that is sustainable for taxpayers, affordable for homeowners and accountable to everyone,” he said.
Right now, flood insurance premiums cannot rise by more than 25 percent annually, but the reauthorization would cap the annual increases at 10 percent. That change is designed to help keep the cost of the insurance affordable and keep homeowners from dropping it.
Compensation for private insurance companies participating in FEMA’s “Write Your Own Policy” program would also be capped at 22 percent of premiums instead of the 31 percent that the agency currently allows. The reauthorization would also hold FEMA to strict payment deadlines when claims are filed, and ban outside contractors from using legal tactics to prevent or delay the paying out of legitimate claims.
Funding would also be provided to help encourage the use of more advanced mapping technologies to improve flood maps in communities across the country.
To help strengthen the flood insurance program’s overall finances, the reauthorization would also freeze interest payments the program has been paying to the federal Treasury. In all, the program is an estimated $23 billion in debt, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report. It has paid about $4 billion in interest to the Treasury over the last decade, consuming roughly 10 percent of the revenue collected through premiums, the senators said.
Freezing those payments would free up funds that could be used to help focus the agency more on preventive efforts, including low-interest loans to homeowners for elevation projects and aid to communities for large-scale flood-mitigation projects. The senators yesterday cited national statistics that indicate such projects generate a $4 return for every $1 spent.
“Our bill shifts our entire flood-response paradigm from one that solely focuses on rebuilding in the aftermath of storms and floods to one that actively works to prevent them,” Menendez said. “These investments in resiliency will be worth every penny, and then some.”
“It’s a lot cheaper to pay on the front end than on the back end,” said U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican who represents Louisiana, a state that was hit hard by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Kennedy, one of three Republicans to sign onto the bill as a primary sponsor along with Menendez and other Democrats, called the reauthorization proposal “incredibly important,” citing the September 30 deadline for renewal.
“It is urgent that we act,” he said.
Krista Sperber, a co-founder of the New Jersey Organizing Project, a group that has been advocating for years for Sandy victims, credited the proposed reauthorization for incorporating “hard lessons” that were learned through New Jersey’s experience with FEMA and the flood insurance program.
“It reins in the private insurance companies who have made record profits at our expense, stops them from being reimbursed by (taxpayers) when we fight their abuses in court, and creates penalties for underpayment, which were rampant after Sandy,” Sperber said. “This legislation creates pathways to allow families to prevent a flood disaster and get out of harm’s way, saving us incredible loss and emotional distress, and saving taxpayers money,” she said.
Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center, another agency that has worked on behalf of Sandy victims, said by limiting the annual increases in insurance premiums the proposal would also help “keep the Jersey Shore affordable to working families.”
'Laugh Instead of Cry' comedy show benefits Sandy group - By Jean Mikle, Asbury Park Press
BELMAR - A comedy show here Saturday will raise money for a superstorm Sandy victims' advocacy group.
The "Laugh Instead of Cry" fundraiser will feature comedians John Poveromo, Angelo Gingerelli and Joann Filan, performing at 8 p.m. at the Beach Haus Brewery, 801 Main St.
Proceeds benefit the New Jersey Organizing Project, a local Sandy advocacy group. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door, and include two drinks from the Beach Haus. Food will be available from 10th Avenue Burrito.
You can purchase tickets at https://actionnetwork.org/ticketed_events/comedy-night-fundraiser-2.
Born in Brooklyn but raised in New Jersey, Poveromo has a personal connection to Sandy: his parents lost their Toms River home in the storm.
He said working with New Jersey Organizing Project is a way for him to help Sandy victims who are still struggling, nearly five years after the storm. The organizing project was one of several advocacy groups that was instrumental in getting legislation passed to protect Sandy families from foreclosure.
"The stress and heartache I saw my parents endure after Sandy hit is not something I'd wish on anyone," Poveromo said.
"Losing your home is a heavy weight to bear and one they still deal with today both financially and emotionally."
The goal of the fundraiser is to raise $8,780, the same amount the organizing project received last year from Belmar storm victim Krista Sperber.
Belmar residents Mike Irwin, Krista Sperber and her two children, Jack and Maisie, were helped to get home after superstorm Sandy by a borough-wide fundraising effort.
The Sperber family, along with the family of Teresa Keefe were part of Belmar's "Home by Summer" campaign, which raised more than $200,000 to get the two families home. Watch the video above of Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty talking about the campaign.
Before receiving support from the Belmar campaign, Sperber had started a GoFundMe effort as her family struggled to stay afloat while paying rent, storage fees, and a mortgage on a house that could not be lived in.
After receiving help from "Home by Summer" and finally settling with her flood insurance, Krista Sperber asked those who had contributed to the GoFundMe campaign if they wanted their donations returned, or if she should donate it to help other Sandy families.
"They all told me to pay it forward because that's the kind of community we are," Sperber said.
Jean Mikle: 732-643-4050, firstname.lastname@example.org
NJ comic who lost childhood home, raising money for Sandy victims - By Steve Trevelise, New Jersey 101.5
John Poveromo is a Toms River comedian who lost the home he grew up in to Sandy. As we approach the fifth anniversary of the super storm, there are still many people who continue to deal with the effects and need your help.
On Saturday, John is hosting a fundraiser to benefit the New Jersey Organizing Project, launched by nine Sandy survivors. The group connects and trains community members to “participate in the decision-making processes that affect their daily lives and take action for real solutions.”
Recently, the organization helped create a Rental Assistance Program, and then led a coalition of communities and elected officials to provide rental assistance to families still out of their homes. That resulted in an additional investment of $15 million to helped affected communities.
Here’s John’s story, in his own words:
“After Hurricane sandy in 2012 my parents lost their home to the storm. I can’t even begin to tell you, 5 years later, how that has affected them. I can only tell you the stress and heartache I saw my parents endure after Sandy hit is not something I’d wish on anyone. Losing your home is a heavy weight to bear and one they still deal with today both financially and emotionally.
“In January I began working with and supporting NJOP’s efforts to ensure that the victims still suffering find the help they need and assurance that if this should happen again, they won’t be going through it alone.”
“As I said above, I can’t even begin to tell you. But what I can do is provide you with a first hand account of what it was like from my mother.”
Here’s the account of what life was like following the storm from John’s mom, Laura Hanebury, also in her own words:
“It’s hard to describe how I felt after Sandy hit. I remember being in the hotel room on my iPad seeing the roller coaster in the ocean, the gas explosions at Camp Osborn in Mantoloking — all the homes on fire and no way to get help there so they had to just let them burn.
We tried to get to our house the next day but Fischer Boulevard was flooded. There was actually a 40-foot yacht in the middle of the street. That night my neighbor text me and said he had taken a kayak down our street. He had 3 feet of water in his house and since my house sat a little lower than his, I probably had the same or worse. I remember texting a friend and telling him about the water – but I didn’t fully understand what that was going to mean. I still remember repeating ‘3 feet of water in my house,’ but I realize now they were just words. They had no meaning to me. I could not comprehend what was happened. That is still one of the most disturbing things I remember, that I didn’t understand it in my mind.
The next day, Oct. 31 we finally got there. We had to park on the street behind our house because our road was still flooded. The front door wouldn’t open because the carpet was so swelled from the water. We pushed the door and saw the wet furniture in the living room first. I was still numb. I finally cried when I saw all the boxes of our Christmas decorations turned upside down and the contents in water. Then my 45 record collection. Those are the things I can’t forget about and still get me very upset.
“Even seeing all the destruction in the house, and with my son’s friends coming to help pack things that weren’t damaged, I did not fully understand the impact this was going to have on my life. It was three days later when someone asked where I was going to live that I lost it. I actually felt on the verge of hysteria. That’s when I realized I couldn’t just ‘clean up’ the mess 3 feet of water made. I had to pack to move. Immediately. No time for thinking or planning. Just time for making what turned into life changing decisions. I’ve spent my whole life planning and organizing. It’s what’s kept me sane through some hard times in the past and now I had to change everything – including my way of coping with bad situations.
Another huge hit came a few days later when I found out I couldn’t go to my office, which I’d been at for 18 years at the time, because it’s located on the barrier island that was hit the hardest. More change, happening way too quickly, and people just didn’t understand why I couldn’t cope.
I was speaking with someone today that I just met who also lost her home. She not only understood but she is still impacted mentally like I am. The only people I’ve ever spoken to that “get” it are the people who were affected.”
I consider myself to be a compassionate and empathetic person. Whenever I would see stories about people losing homes hurricanes or fires, I felt like I knew exactly how I would feel. I was wrong. There is no way to know unless you’ve been there.”
We're South Jersey and the Shore standing together for community solutions.