By Doug Quinn
As a Sandy survivor, my heart aches for the people of Texas. I know, their lives will change -not for days, weeks, or months but for years. The storm will pass and the media will focus on loss of property and the loss of life, but the story is much deeper than that. When they return to what was once a home they will be in for a shock, or might walk around in a stupor, it became the “new normal” for many of us.
You just got hit by a hurricane, but there’s a more waiting to bear down on you. The winds of Harvey are about to open your eyes to the greed and corruption that drive far too many people and corporations in this country. You’re about to find out that FEMA is asleep at the wheel, that the National Flood Insurance Program is a sham and that there are many – including elected officials – who are supposed to be looking out for your best interests that don’t operate “For the people, by the people, and of the people.”
You will find out that your homeowners insurance does not cover flooding.
That’s devastating. Equally devastating is even flood policyholders are going to struggle. I know, because as the five-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches, I, and thousands of other families, are still not home.
The primary reason I’m still not home is FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). My home was totaled, and I was offered 37 cents on the dollar for my claim. I spent years suing the private insurance company that tried to underpay me. One that made millions in profit for simply administering a taxpayer funded program. While I paid $40,000 in legal expenses, taxpayers footed the company’s legal bill. This program – the NFIP – must be reauthorized by Congress by this year.
This is our opportunity to stand up for storm victims. The program must be reformed so that flood insurance is affordable and works for families on the front lines. Reforms must focus on fairness. The private insurance companies who are part of the Write Your Own program have been underpaying policyholders, falsifying engineering reports and making record profits. We need to make sure the program isn’t stacked against policyholders and for WYO’s by making the appeals system we started during Sandy permanent, improving it and shifting the way legal fees are paid so taxpayers and flood survivors are not left holding the bag.
Reforms must focus on affordability – premiums are pricing families out of protection. Look at Texas. We need to make mitigation programs, including Increased Cost of Compliance funding, available before disasters to make families safer and reduce recovery costs. We also have to focus on preparation and mitigation by funding accurate flood mapping technology and require FEMA to use it. We need to fund mitigation efforts for communities & improve participation in the Community Rating System. That program reduces risk and provides a community-wide discount on flood policies.
There’s legislation in both the Senate and House that takes big steps in the right direction for families – the SAFE NFIP Act. In the Senate, it’s been championed by New Jersey Senators Menendez and Booker and has an unlikely list of co-sponsors from states who know flood devastation including both Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Marco Rubio – an unusual pair to see together. Responsible leaders know what needs to happen to make this program work, regardless of what side of the aisle they sit on.
They will see the need to stand up friends and neighbors, get together and organize: those who thrive on oppression and corruption do so because they isolate people and drag them into dark corners where they can’t defend themselves. They will be the ones who will rebuild together and make those programs work, who will create rental assistance programs or pass laws to stop foreclosures on storm victims like we have in New Jersey. All of us here in New Jersey who are watching the horror in Houston or waiting for the horror in Florida – we have to implement the hard lessons we learned in Sandy. We owe it to ourselves, to Houston, and to the next community that will be hit as extreme weather increases.
Doug Quinn is a father of two, a Marine Corps veteran, and a member of the New Jersey Organizing Project from Silverton, NJ.