Politics & Government

Irma is just the beginning, Sandy victims warn Floridians

Tommy Nevitt carries Miranda Abbott, 6, through flooding caused by Hurricane Irma on the west side of Jacksonville, Monday, Sept. 11 2017.
Tommy Nevitt carries Miranda Abbott, 6, through flooding caused by Hurricane Irma on the west side of Jacksonville, Monday, Sept. 11 2017. The Florida Times-Union via AP

In 2011, The National Flood Insurance Program told Claudette D’Arrigo that her Highlands, New Jersey home was structurally sound after Hurricane Irene.

When Superstorm Sandy hit 13 months later and caused her home to flood, it was a different story.

The nation’s government-run flood insurance program, which ensures 1.7 million homeowners in Florida, determined that she had 20 years of earth erosion under her home, which meant she wasn’t eligible for an insurance payout.

After submitting her 2011 document three times and contacting New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez failed to result in a payout, D’Arrigo filed an appeal in April 2015. Her appeal was heard in January 2017 and she received her payout in August 2017.

“It was a low offer, but I accepted the offer because we needed to move on,” D’Arrigo said. “That is the process that will happen to everyone in Houston and everyone in Florida. It was a five-year wait for us to receive our money.”

Irma cleanup means all hands on deck. Kids, neighbors, utility workers and one chainsaw-wielding nun get to work as millions of evacuees fight gridlock to get home to Florida and millions more wait for power to be restored.

As Florida and Texas begin cleanup from Hurricane Irma, New Jersey and New York homeowners who endured flooding from Superstorm Sandy five years ago are urging Congress to overhaul the nation’s flood insurance program. They want greater protections from fraud while allowing private insurers to enter the market to avoid the delays after Superstorm Sandy.

“The current program needs to be reformed,” said New Jersey Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur, who represents a stretch of coastal New Jersey damaged by Sandy. “I hear from a lot of people who paid premiums for decades and now they are getting treated in a way that no private insurer could ever treat people without being called to account. What’s the difference? You can sue your private insurance company.”

Key West resident Lee Cummings, a 69-year-old who spends his summers in the Washington, D.C. area, is worried that the delays after Sandy will also happen to people flooded by Irma after hearing D’Arrigo speak.

“They seem pretty certain that the storm is stage one and the real battle is stage two,” Cummings said. “I certainly hope that’s not true.”

Cummings, who said he used satellite maps to see that his Key West house still has its roof after Irma, has no idea if flood waters damaged his property.

The National Flood Insurance program director walks you through how to file your flood insurance claim, from documentation to working with an adjuster.

Congress extended the National Flood Insurance Program by three months as part of a $15.25 billion hurricane relief package that passed last week. The package also included an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling and a continuing resolution to fund the government through December.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he would have voted in favor of the package because of the immediate need for relief money, but said in a statement that extending the National Flood Insurance Program without an overhaul is irresponsible.

“I am frustrated Congress has once again temporarily reauthorized the outdated National Flood Insurance Program without enacting a long-term solution that provides much-needed improvements for the people of Florida and places this vital program on a sustainable path for the future,” Rubio said.

Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling has a package of bills to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program in the House Financial Services committee, a package that MacArthur supports.

Such reforms will likely lead to higher flood insurance premiums for policyholders, as the current program is heavily subsidized by the government.

“I would argue that more than half of the American population are at risk for flood,” MacArthur said. “We need this program and we can’t let it lapse. I would hope that we pass a bill and not kick it down the road further.”

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty