By Brenda Flanagan
Distraught Sandy victims exploded in anger when Rep. Frank Pallone in a news conference about FEMA insurance claims told them 99 percent of claims had been fully processed and millions paid out.
“That 99 percent number I will tell you right now, it’s bull s—-,” Kasimos said.
“And George can I say one thing? I’m very very upset that you are just repeating National Flood’s and FEMA’s BS,” said homeowner Gery Sofman, “Because I am both a homeowner and a business owner in Highlands, N.J. Both of my claims are still being ‘processed.’”
Pallone listened. In Highlands, a town that’s still rebuilding after Sandy, the congressman explained he’s drafted a bill that would require increased oversight of insurance companies that manage federal flood insurance policies and would cap their profit margins at ten percent.
He told furious victims, “It’s just another way to try to deal with FEMA and put their feet to the fire… I understand, I understand that the homeowners…”
“I’m so sick of people saying, ‘I understand,'” Sofman said, “You don’t understand if you have no home and your business has been decimated!”
Sofman’s home remains an empty lot. She opened her business — an organic grocery store — three months before Sandy hit. It tore up half the building but she was denied a $50,000 small business grant. She’s doing her own reconstruction and had to hire a lawyer to fight the insurance companies for a fair settlement. She tears up talking about how she feels.
“Beaten down, abandoned, I don’t want to get — I’m very emotional,” she said.
Sandy victims told Pallone some 20,000 people are still waiting for insurance payments fighting in court against insurance attorneys whose salaries are paid by the federal taxpayer dollars.
“You need to fix this now,” said Highlands Councilwoman Claudette D’Arrigo. “It cannot go on this way. You have not helped this town at all and we are here to tell you that!”
Pallone responded, “Look, I think it’s unfair to suggest I haven’t been helpful.”
Pallone acknowledged post-Sandy rebuild programs often failed to help victims and he helped battle fraud by FEMA insurance companies. He promised to push for a congressional investigation of FEMA and for the removal of its top administrator.
“It may very well be that at some point we decide we got to get rid of FEMA and come up with a different agency, but right now they are the agency,” said Pallone.
Gert said, “I really am sick of being processed. I want to recover! I want to reopen my shop!”
Pallone said he would amend the bill to cover homeowner attorney’s fees. But as Sandy’s fourth anniversary approaches, frustrated homeowners — or, people who own lots, — now say they’re going to create their own storm of protest.