COOPERSTOWN -- U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged insurance companies Thursday to stop "lollygagging" and process flood-damage claims more quickly so homeowners and businesses can find out sooner if they qualify for federal relief.
Schumer said his office has received "numerous complaints" that insurance companies have dragged their feet in completing reviews of claims, with the delays slowing down the issuance of federal aid to those impacted by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
He demanded that the companies provide a public report giving specific information on the number of flood claims they fielded and the number of claims that they have processed to date. He said he also wants to know the average time that went into completing the claim reviews.
"Plodding flood insurance providers can be a fly in the ointment that holds up the prompt delivery of desperately needed federal aid," Schumer said.
State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, the chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, said Thursday he advised the state Department of Financial Services to remind the insurance industry that "all state laws apply" for federal flood insurance.
He said carriers must provide a response within 15 days to New York policyholders who make claims.
"There is a definite problem here, and we appreciate the efforts of Sen. Schumer in this area," Seward told The Daily Star. "When people have been paying their insurance premiums, their claims should be paid."
Schumer said for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be responsive, the insurance industry must process those claims more quickly.
FEMA, Schumer said, conducted a survey of flood insurance companies, tallying the number of claims during the first two months following the storm. Information relayed to Schumer's office this week shows that flood insurance companies fielded 14,500 claims related to damage from Irene, but only 62 percent had been processed.
Lee led 3,150 policyholders to file claims with their flood insurance providers, according to Schumer aides. But as of the most recent statistics, only 49 percent of those claims have been closed, Schumer's office said.
"When faced with a disaster of the severity wreaked by Lee and Irene, we need focused, intense and prompt follow-up, not lollygagging insurance company business-as-usual when it comes to processing the claims of families and small businesses that were hammered," Schumer said.
He noted that FEMA cannot provide individual assistance to cover damages that are already covered by an individual's or business' flood insurance policy.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Small Business Administration is reminding homeowners and businesses impacted by Irene and Lee that the deadline for returning applications for the agency's disaster loan program is Dec. 15.
Information can be obtained by contacting the SBA at its toll-free telephone number, (800) 659-2955. Loan applications may be obtained on the web at: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/
Dec. 15 is also the deadline for those impacted by the flooding to receive assistance from FEMA's disaster aid programs, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Those seeking FEMA assistance are urged to contact the agency by telephone at (800) 621-3362 or through the FEMA website: www.disasterassistance.gov/