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Lawmakers: Federal agency vows to address concerns of Sandy survivors over insurance claims

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SECAUCUS, New Jersey — Federal emergency officials are taking new steps to address concerns from homeowners still struggling to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy more than two years ago, New Jersey and New York lawmakers announced Friday.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who has spearheaded a push for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to investigate allegations that insurers might be shortchanging homeowners, met this week with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, and was among those at a press conference to announce the new measures.

"Help is finally on the way for Sandy flood victims who have been mired for more than two years in an endless insurance claims process that I would argue has been rigged against them," the New Jersey Democrat said at the Secaucus Public Safety Marina, which was badly damaged in the storm.

Menendez said Fugate committed to take administrative action to ensure that insurance companies are penalized for underpaying or overpaying policyholders on flood damage claims.

FEMA also has agreed to reopen and consider appeals from 270 policyholders who suffered damage from Sandy but had their appeals dismissed because they missed a deadline. And FEMA officials have recommitted to quickly establishing a flood insurance advocate charged with helping owners navigate the complicated claims and appeals process.

Menendez said he will convene a task force with members of Congress, FEMA and the insurance industry to strike the right balance. Meanwhile, FEMA has asked the Department of Homeland Security inspector general to investigate the allegations.

PHOTO: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker walks on a dock at the Secaucus Public Safety Marina prior to a news conference, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Secaucus, N.J. Booker was joined by Sen. Robert Menendez and other officials to announce federal response for homeowners in the region who were affected by Superstorm Sandy. Menendez and the others have demanded the Federal Emergency Management Agency investigate allegations that insurance companies handling Sandy flood damage claims are manipulating them to shortchange homeowners. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker walks on a dock at the Secaucus Public Safety Marina prior to a news conference, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Secaucus, N.J. Booker was joined by Sen. Robert Menendez and other officials to announce federal response for homeowners in the region who were affected by Superstorm Sandy. Menendez and the others have demanded the Federal Emergency Management Agency investigate allegations that insurance companies handling Sandy flood damage claims are manipulating them to shortchange homeowners. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

A spokesman for FEMA said that, as announced at the press conference, New Jersey insurance companies are being asked to comply with a New York court order related to the issue.

Spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said in an email that letters were sent to companies Friday about the order, which forces companies to provide policyholders with all engineering reports completed on their properties so they are made aware of any changes.

"Each policyholder deserves to be paid for every dollar of their covered flood losses, and taxpayers deserve to know that we remain good stewards of taxpayer dollars," spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said in an email.

The Friday announcement was welcome news to Toms River resident Doug Quinn, 50, whose home was ravaged by the storm. Despite damage estimates of more than $250,000 worth on his house, Quinn received just over $90,000 from FEMA after an inspector determined foundation damage was caused by long-term earth movement instead of flood waters, Quinn said.

Still he was pleased that the concerns of property owners apparently have gotten FEMA's attention.

"This is more than I expected," he said. "There's obviously more to be done, but this is big."

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PHOTO: U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez walks on a dock at the Secaucus Public Safety Marina prior to a news conference, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Secaucus, N.J. Menendez was joined by Sen. Cory Booker and other officials to announce federal response for homeowners in the region who were affected by Superstorm Sandy. Menendez and the others have demanded the Federal Emergency Management Agency investigate allegations that insurance companies handling Sandy flood damage claims are manipulating them to shortchange homeowners. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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