2 Va. lawmakers fault flood insurance program

Storm victims' complaints prompt officials to call for investigation of NFIP

December 04, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Citing problems similar to those that have kept Maryland's Tropical Storm Isabel victims out of their homes more than a year after the storm, a congresswoman and a senator from Virginia called this week on the Justice Department to investigate the federal flood insurance program.

Rep. Jo Ann Davis and Sen. George F. Allen, both Republicans, sent letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking that he immediately look into allegations of wrongdoing within the program.

"A strong connection appears to exist between the problems uncovered and low-ball settlements that have left my constituents living in [Federal Emergency Management Agency] campers for 14 months after Hurricane Isabel," Davis wrote.

In both cases, the letters came after meetings with Steve Kanstoroom, a Talbot County man whose investigation into the National Flood Insurance Program helped lead to a re-evaluation of thousands of Isabel settlements over the summer. Kanstoroom, who believes that re-evaluation was flawed, has since been calling for an independent investigation of the program and further review of claims.

Davis wrote another letter to Tom Ridge, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, of which the National Flood Insurance Program is a part, saying she is "deeply concerned" about the possibility of conflicts of interest in the claims review.

The NFIP re-evaluated more than 2,000 Isabel claims and found that more than half of those who requested reviews were due more money. Those victims received $8.6 million in additional settlements.

Davis wrote that she was disturbed to learn that in many cases, the adjusters who worked on the claims review had also handled claims in the aftermath of the storm. Constituents told her that, in many cases, the claims reviews were cursory and adjusters did not examine evidence that victims provided to back up their requests for higher settlements, Davis wrote.

FEMA spokesman James McIntire told the Associated Press that the pool of qualified flood adjusters was too small to create a claims review team with no members who worked after Isabel. But he said adjusters were precluded from handling the same claims they had previously worked on.

Maryland Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski have made similar requests for investigations into the program.

Representatives of both Allen and Davis said they have not gotten responses to their letters. But Davis' chief of staff, Chris Connelly, said he expects the administration to act quickly on the requests.

"We're not looking for a turnaround, feel-good letter. We're looking for them to seriously look into this thing," he said. "We want this investigated and to do it right."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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