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Post-Sandy, where are the feds?

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Friday, February 8, 2013
Posted: 10 am ET

As I write this, New York and New Jersey coastal residents still living in Third World shambles as the result of Superstorm Sandy are bracing for yet another worst-case scenario: a brutal winter storm that could drop more than a foot of snow into their already chaotic lives.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Garden State, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is fuming with so much anger at the federal government that his ire could well light Atlantic City should the power go out.

Christie unloaded on the feds this week, calling the beleaguered National Flood Insurance Program "a disgrace" for the glacial pace at which it has gone about resolving claims after Sandy. Christie says 70 percent of cases remain unresolved more than a quarter of a year later.

In New Jersey alone, Sandy destroyed or altered some 346,000 homes in its lumbering pre-Halloween sneak attack, leaving in its wake damage estimated at $37 billion.

The reason Christie went ballistic is because the NFIP has only gotten around to processing about 30 percent of the state's flood claims, while homeowners insurance companies and other insurers have already processed nearly 80 percent of some 430,000 nonflood-related insurance claims.

The problem with the delay is that the state of New Jersey and various charities are left on hold awaiting NFIP settlements before they can step in and determine how much additional grant money residents might need to rebuild, Christie said.

"I've been as patient as I'm going to be with the National Flood Insurance Program," said the frustrated Christie at a press conference. "They need to get more people into New Jersey, they need to get to work, they need to get to processing these things. People need to know how much money they're going to have."

Christie has instructed his congressional delegation to put the screws to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the NFIP, to improve service.

The last thing Christie or residents along the Atlantic coast need at this point is a snowstorm.

To some degree, Christie's tirade was lost as so much preaching to the choir. By now, most federal and state officials are painfully aware that the NFIP is in serious trouble, having been swamped since 2005 with $18 billion in debt from back-to-back strong hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Last July, President Barack Obama signed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which not only ended Congress' kick-the-can approach to the flood insurance program by extending it for five years but also finally authorized the kind of reforms that can make the program self-sustaining for the first time in its 45-year history.

But as Ringo Starr of The Beatles once observed, time takes time.

And time is something that Gov. Christie and hard-hit residents of his state have flat run out of.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

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