|Date:||December 08, 2016|
|Source:||The St. Augustine Record|
Two months after Hurricane Matthew, many people sharing stories of their post-storm experiences are coming to the realization even valid information regarding the recovery process does not apply to everyone. Others are tangled in the web of misinformation. Others still are just plain lost.
The city of St. Augustine on Wednesday hosted a town hall meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other entities at the Willie Gallimore Center. Representatives from a number of local, state and federal agencies were on hand to offer an overview of recovery work following Matthew and to answer questions from residents, businesses operators and property owners continuing to navigate their own recovery processes.
City Manager John Regan, who lives in south Davis Shores, told audience members he’s “working through the maze of programs” like many others and that he appreciates the degree of difficulty involved.
“We’re all going through quite a disturbance,” he said.
Dozens of attendees, mostly homeowners, asked questions of varying degrees of specificity. There was also some venting.
One resident said FEMA’s system is “rewarding gamblers who lost,” referring to the uninsured who have received help at the same time, or even before, those with insurance. Josh Overmyer, a Community Rating System specialist for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, pointed to figures from extensive flooding in South Carolina last year. He said the average payout for those with insurance was $44,000 and just $6,000 for those without it.
The first question of the night was when residents could expect to receive their building permits. (Permits are issued by the building departments of local jurisdictions.)
City officials said they’ve completed their estimations concerning whether homes are substantially damaged and that permits will begin to be issued to homes not meeting or exceeding the 50 percent threshold.
Kevin Brown, senior specialist for the National Flood Insurance Program, offered to personally help several people voicing concerns about how they’re being handled by their insurers and questioning the veracity of information they’ve received.
Cash McVay, a Lincolnville resident, said the flood was “nothing” compared to working with his insurance adjuster but that he thinks they’re close to reaching some kind of resolution. He said he anticipated signing his Proof of Loss but suspected his insurer will not be paying out the claim.
Brown said once McVay signs and submits his Proof of Loss he should have a check within 5-7 days. He said if those 5-7 days pass and McVay is still without the check, that’s when he needs to start “screaming, hollering and raising some concerns.”
Brown also said the Proof of Loss has historically been a problem, in terms of policyholders and adjusters coming to agreements on valuations.
Austin Mills, a Davis Shores resident and former contractor, said his mortgage company was holding half of the $30,000 advance he had received from his flood insurer and asked what recourse, if any, he had to retrieve it.
“They’re manipulating the money,” he said, adding expenses could multiply due to the company’s stipulations.
Brown said mortgage companies have a right to any monies that come through the door on properties against which they hold a lien.
“They’re trying to protect their investment, to make sure that work actually occurs,” he said. “Not anybody in here, but in another part of the world, some people take the money and they go to Hawaii.”
Brown said some mortgage companies have been flexible and signed off on checks while others “have not played very kindly.” He said people have worked their way up the food chain, asking for managers and executives, with mixed results.
The issue was not an NFIP or FEMA issue, however, as officials pointed out.
Michael Peacock, intergovernmental affairs representative for FEMA, suggested Mills check with the office of Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
Another resident, referencing the Dec. 16 deadline to register for disaster assistance with FEMA and/or low-interest disaster loans through Small Business Administration, said he figured he would have $100,000 of work to do on top of what will be covered but that he didn’t think he would know for sure before the deadline. He asked whether he should wait or go ahead and apply for the loans.
John Camp, public affairs specialist for SBA, said he should proceed and apply for the full amount ($200,000 for households), adding there was no requirement to accept the loan if approved. He said in the event he did take the loan and insurance came in higher than expected, he could use that money to pay down or pay off the loan.
McVay had asked whether accepting a loan from SBA would affect his negotiations with insurers to which officials said there was no connection between the two and that one outcome should not influence the other.
Another man, whose primary home is in Jacksonville but who owns a secondary home in Summer Haven, was told he was just about out of luck in terms of getting assistance. Officials said FEMA only deals with primary residences and that because the man’s 100-year-old home is not registered as a historical structure on any local, state or national lists, the best he could do might be a loan through SBA.
An SBA fact sheet for homeowners and renters seeking disaster loans says secondary homes or vacation properties are not eligible, but that “qualified rental properties” may be eligible for assistance under the business loan program.
This is just a sampling of issues brought up at Wednesday’s meeting.
Insurance claims update
Claims data for Hurricane Matthew released this week by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation show there were 112,000 insurance claims totaling $729 million in losses filed statewide as of Dec. 2. The data came from 367 insurance companies reporting claims to the office.
Overall, 75.7 percent of the 112,000 claims have been closed out, with 48,648 paid, 36,150 not paid and 27,202 claims still open. (A claim that is not paid does not necessarily mean it was denied. There are instances such as where the value of damage claimed comes in under the deductible.)
Just 34 percent of 4,391 federal flood claims (backed by the National Flood Insurance Program) have been closed out, with 877 paid, 618 not paid and 2,896 still open. Meanwhile, 77.1 percent of 140 private flood claims have been closed out, with 74 paid, 34 not paid and 32 still open.
In St. Johns County, 65.8 percent of 11,312 overall claims have been closed out, with 3,734 paid, 3,708 not paid and 3,870 still open. Just 24.4 percent of 2,573 federal flood claims have been closed out, with 428 paid, 199 not paid and 1,946 still open. Private flood insurers have closed 56.7 percent of 30 claims, with 12 paid, five not paid and 13 still open.