By Brenda Flanagan
“The storm was a nightmare. But what followed was even worse,” said Therese Daidone.
Sandy survivor Daidone of Brick stood today with other shore homeowners to say FEMA re-victimized them all — left her damage claims to languish, low-balled and underpaid — even though she faithfully paid for full flood insurance coverage.
“So I must now pay rent on a dilapidated house in a senior community and a mortgage on a house I can’t live in,” she said.
“The shore is not rebuilt. The shore’s a mess. People are homeless — good, middle class Americans that paid their flood insurance and should’ve gotten a quick payment still do not,” said George Kasimos, founder of Stop FEMA Now.
“Many Sandy victims felt they were underpaid because they were — plain and simple,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.
Menendez today announced an agreement with FEMA that would give these homeowners another chance at fair settlements.
“There are potentially thousands of Sandy survivors like Therese who may have been victimized by fraudulent engineering reports, dishonest adjustors or basic bureaucratic incompetence,” he said.
Menendez says FEMA will help homeowners obtain original copies of all engineering inspections to determine whether they were doctored — a practice he says a federal magistrate found occurred commonly in New York and called “reprehensible gamesmanship committed by the firms in order to justify lower payments to homeowners. These documents were in many cases manipulated or changed without ever notifying the engineers who actually saw the home.”
FEMA critics claim while all this was going on, the agency turned a blind eye — or worse. But Menendez says the agency now promises improvements.
“The biggest commitment I secured was FEMA’s promise to reopen all cases that were subject to fraud or questionable practices — not just those in litigation — and increase the insurance amount if it is appropriate,” Menendez said.
“I feel a little bit better about the fact there’s somebody over their shoulder. Sen. Menendez is watching them very carefully. FEMA does appear to be coming around,” said Doug Quinn.
Quinn blames FEMA for the alleged low-ball settlement offered on his Toms River home — slammed by Sandy’s storm surge. An engineer he hired reported the surge caused cracks in the foundation, but the insurance company also hired an engineer.
“And he said, ‘Oh, no. This is all earth movement. This was all here before the storm.’ Even though I have pictures from before the storm showing that damage wasn’t there,” Quinn said.
Menendez will meet with FEMA officials next week to work out details of how these cases can be reexamined. He said, one thing is for certain: any firm implicated in fraud will not be exempt from criminal prosecution.