Task force launching to examine Superstorm Sandy problems and develop reforms

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TRENTON, New Jersey — A task force will begin work next week with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's national flood insurance program to examine problems that arose after Superstorm Sandy and to develop recommendations to correct them.

U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, of New Jersey, and Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, of New York, plan to launch the Sandy task force Tuesday in Washington.

Steven Sandberg, a spokesman for Menendez, said the group's short-term goal is to make sure Sandy victims get what they deserve, while also working on recommendations for long-lasting, concrete changes.

"Ultimately, they have to look and take a deep dive into where the problems lie and where the fixes might be available," Sandberg said. "Ultimately, we just want this process to work. If you're a homeowner who lives in a flood zone and is required to have flood insurance, you want to know that if you're paying premiums on a monthly or annual basis, that if disaster falls you're covered. Sadly, too many victims of Superstorm Sandy found out that they were not."

FEMA has pumped more than $6.9 billion into New Jersey in the more than two years since Sandy struck to reimburse municipalities for clearing debris, restoring boardwalks and rebuilding critical facilities.

It has approved nearly $423 million in payments to survivors and paid out more than $3.5 billion in flood insurance claims to policyholders whose homes were damaged or destroyed.

The program has drawn scrutiny from Congress after allegations of fraud involving how some insurance companies assessed damage after the October 2012 storm, which killed 71 people in the state and caused $65 billion in overall damage.

Insurers have denied wrongdoing, but FEMA officials agreed to provide Sandy victims who think their insurance claims were not fairly paid out a chance for a review. The review could include as many as 144,000 claims and won't limit corrective action to the 2,200 that are in litigation.

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