Sandy-hit Shore homeowners ask: "Where is the money?"
Underwater doesn't even begin to get at the heart of Maurice Corkery's predicament. "This was my summer home," the Delaware County plant manager said of his little rancher on Third Street in Ocean City, N.J., flooded with its foundation cracked - totalled, really - by Sandy.
Underwater doesn't even begin to get at the heart of Maurice Corkery's predicament.
"This was my summer home," the Delaware County plant manager said of his little rancher on Third Street in Ocean City, N.J., flooded with its foundation cracked - totalled, really - by Sandy.
"I was trying to think of a time line," he said. "It's been so long. I'm so screwed up. I haven't seen any money. Where is the money? All they do is talk about it."
His engineer has to talk to the insurance company engineer. His adjuster has to get back to him. The insurance engineer wants sketches and drawings. His one-page soil-boring log with 14 entries "does not contain enough information," said an e-mail he received from his adjuster.
Corkery, 53, who paid at the top of the market for the house: $350,000 for a little piece of the Shore, a little stab at retirement, a place to take his grandson, sees it slipping away.
Who would have thought five months after Sandy, he'd be no closer to getting things back in order than the day after the storm? That he'd still be waiting for a settlement from his $1,700-a-year flood insurance?
That his rancher, when you fling open the door, is a gutted shell, water again filling up from a recent storm, no floor, more like a tent than a dwelling?
"It seems like people who are responsible and have paid for coverage are the losers," he said. "The storm was bad enough. The red tape is a joke."
The stories seem to be everywhere about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) - a month ago, Gov. Christie called its response awful - but FEMA spokesman Dan Watson released statistics last week that showed 94 percent of the state's 73,778 claims had been settled.
The FEMA statistics have at times been at odds with state statistics released previously. In February, Christie said just 30 percent of the flood claims had been settled; FEMA said 50 percent.
The state has since washed its hands of any attempt to run interference with the federally regulated program, state Banking and Insurance Department spokesman Marshall McKnight said. Any complaints the state receives regarding flood insurance now are referred to a hotline FEMA set up after the governor's criticism, 1-800-427-4661.
FEMA also started releasing statistics from insurance companies. The flood-insurance program is federally funded but administered by individual companies, whose settlements, some critics say, are later subjected to second-guessing audits by FEMA.
Carol Ann Whitfield, a claims manager with the Fidelity National Financial insurance company, agrees companies are more cautious when doling out FEMA's flood insurance because of the audit.
"When you deal with a [regular property] insurance company, they have the ability to go out there and write up the claim and move on," she said. "With flood insurance, we have to make sure we're writing the claims properly because we do get audited by FEMA. We cannot extend the coverage because we do get audited by FEMA. If there are items not covered, they will not pay for it."
On the other hand, those insurance companies get paid by FEMA only when claims are settled.
In all, McKnight said, the Banking and Insurance Department has received 4,935 calls for insurance assistance related to Sandy.
For those like Corkery, or Jack Haley of Long Beach Island, also still without a settlement, the frustration and waiting are nearly unbearable. Even as their towns try to lure tourists to save the summer, those homeowners see their own investments frittered away in a bureaucratic maze.
Haley, who received an estimate of $130,000 to repair damage to his bayfront retirement home, got a check for half that amount from Fidelity, despite his objections.
"They cut the check, and they're not talking to me," he said. "It's like they said, 'We'll send this guy some money, shut him up, and that will be the end of it. I e-mailed them that I received a check, and I'm not cashing it."
Now, he says, the company has instructed him to file a supplemental claim but has moved his case to a low priority because it is considered closed.
"I did a spreadsheet," said Haley, 67, who has owned the house since 1996 and who retired there in 2004 (He also has a home in Florida.) "It took me two weeks. I went to the library. I have no real resources."
Whitfield, of Fidelity, said Haley's additional claims would be paid if warranted. She said people sometimes do not realize that even though they are insured, flood insurance does not cover the full value of the house, only specific items and structural pieces that are damaged.
Thomas Hambrick, a spokesman for the Hartford insurance company, would not comment on Corkery's case, saying only that the Hartford "carefully adheres" to parameters and procedures established by FEMA, and that policyholders may appeal directly to FEMA if they are unsatisfied with flood insurance outcomes. "All participating insurance companies are bound by these procedures," Hambrick wrote in an e-mailed response.
Though Haley and Corkery have other places to live, it is their carefully planned-for, saved-for, invested-in, dream-come-true of a place at the Shore that they see still under siege, in jeopardy, five months after the storm.
Corkery remains in the thick of e-mails back and forth, cc's, attachments, and a dizzying avalanche of correspondence that shows no sign of abating. He is still paying off his $2,000-a-month mortgage on the house, which at this point, he says he wants to just knock down and replace with a modular home raised above new flood-elevation standards. Once he gets a check.
"Mr. Beck," Corkery wrote earlier this month, addressing his adjuster, Francis Beck of Cusack Co. (which did not return requests for comment). "This is ridiculous. Please stop this nonsense. My home is severely damaged because of flood. I have not had use of it for almost five months now. I want this settled."
He added, "My next check will probably go to an attorney."