News Column

Gov. Christie Criticizes Pace of Sandy Relief Payouts

Feb 6, 2013

Matt Katz

Gov. Christie slammed the National Flood Insurance Program in his first Sandy-related salvo against the Obama administration, saying Tuesday that the pace of its payouts to storm victims had "stunk."

During a news conference in this Sandy-ravaged community on the Raritan Bay, Christie said that 30 percent of flood insurance claims, which are paid by the federal government, had been resolved, compared with 85 percent of homeowners' insurance claims, which are paid directly by insurance companies.

The 30 percent figure was disputed by FEMA, which said that its estimate, based on polling data, showed that the majority of cases were closed. A spokesman said 37,000 of 73,000 claims had been closed, with many claimants collecting partial payments.

New Jersey state insurance officials, however, said the federal government had told them just last week that the rate was 30 percent. And insurance companies reported worse news: Only 14,000 cases covered by the program had closed.

Christie famously praised President Obama after Sandy, but on Tuesday he said the federal government had worn out his patience.

"And now I'm going to turn my special brand of love and affection on the national flood insurance plan," Christie said. Behind-the-scenes assurances from officials with the program, which is operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, "haven't been met."

Christie said more employees must begin working in New Jersey so property owners get the money they need to rebuild and so state government and nonprofit grant programs can begin issuing checks to close shortfalls in insurance payouts. Excessive paperwork, inadequate staffing, audits, and the threat of penalties to companies have complicated the process, he said.

FEMA said in a statement that its "top priority is to get resources to those in need as quickly as possible, while also meeting our requirements under the law." Paperwork requirements have been reduced, FEMA said, and companies have been given "additional flexibility to quickly pay advance and partial payments."

To address the backlog, Christie said, the state Department of Banking and Insurance would order insurance companies to respond to its Sandy-related inquires within five days. He also said he was urging the state's congressional delegation to get "all over the backs" of the program.

Christie said federal officials had reported that "they're really busy." He called that "the same B.S. you hear from anyone who's not doing their job."

The Republican governor has had some luck using the bully pulpit against the federal government. Last month, he shamed Republican congressional leaders to stop delaying approval of Sandy money.

Also Tuesday, Christie was asked whether he thought global warming and rising sea levels were to blame for Sandy. As he did in the storm's immediate aftermath, he declined to answer, calling the question "esoteric."

"If you asked any of these people in Union Beach, I don't think they give a damn about what caused it. They just want me to clean it up," Christie said to applause from residents at the firehouse where he was speaking.

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer


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