Somewhat overlooked this week was the Wednesday testimony of FEMA chief Craig Fugate, who told Congress that feds had probably been too stingy paying off damage claims to Jersey homeowners in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
The reason? Officials didn’t want a repeat of the fraud claims that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Fugate said that he has asked the agency’s inspector general “to ensure that we have the accurate and adequate controls” and “that we provide rapid payments, appropriate to the losses, without making fraud prevention our only goal.”
Fugate faced brusque questioning from senators from New York and New Jersey, who said they had heard hundreds of complaints from constituents who bought flood insurance and were “low-balled” on Sandy-related claims. Some still have not been able to return to their homes because they cannot afford to rebuild.
“Structurally, the system is stacked against policyholders,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who called the hearing as chairman of the Senate’s housing subcommittee. Examples Menendez cited were in Ocean County, but his office said the problems are systemwide and a legal services lawyer who appeared at the hearing said in an interview the problem is also affecting Sandy victims in North Jersey.
Little suggestion: Maybe the process is just as easy as deciding to emphasize paying claims now, investigating fraud later. It’s not a perfect system — there never, ever, is — but in the wake of a devastating hurricane, maybe it’s better if government works to help people instead of treating them with suspicion.