FREEPORT, LONG ISLAND (PIX11) – Like so many residents hit hard by Super Storm Sandy, life is still not easy for Michele Mittleman and her husband Steve Parks.
“Losing the house was heartache, losing everything we owned was heartache, and now realizing the federal government is defrauding us and taking our money, after paying premiums for years, is the heartache here. Its been ten months of living in a one bedroom apartment, with my son sleeping in a closet, that’s the heartache,” she said.
Mittleman’s home was flooded so badly, it had to be condemned. Since water clearly caused all of the damage, you can imagine their surprise when FEMA, the agency that provides national flood insurance, denied them coverage of their foundation.
The reason? Earth movement.
“I just thought it was outrageous. How could you say ‘earth movement’ when clearly we had four feet of water in our house?” she asked rhetorically.
Michele and Steve are not the only ones to receive a denial letter from FEMA for legitimate damage to their foundations caused by Super Storm Sandy.
Back in June, PIX11 was the first news outlet to report on many families just like them who are being denied by the Fed’s flood program, known as the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, because of the language, which was written by Congress, that says it will not pay out damages for anything caused by earth movement, even if, that movement was caused by a flood.
“I was so outraged when I got this letter that I immediately got on Facebook. I have never been on Facebook before. My son is on Facebook all the time. But I got on there because in my gut I knew they were not singling my claim out,” said Mittleman.
So she started the Facebook group “Sandy Victims Fighting FEMA.“
Within three weeks, it has garnered nearly 200 followers, many of them with the same concern.
And the problem is, it will literally take an act of Congress to fix the language and help these storm victims.
That is why these folks are making their voices heard by holding a rally at 7:00pm on Thursday night at the Legislative Building in Mineola.
“I want President Obama to issue an executive order demanding that FEMA pay these claims now. I want Senators to get on board and demand that happen,” said Mittleman.
Since our story first aired on PIX11 News, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand got involved, demanding FEMA do the right thing.
So far, according to her office, FEMA has refused to change the language.
When we told her about storm victims taking matters into their own hands, she responded with this statement, saying: “The group’s advocacy will bring much needed awareness on this issue and their voices must be heard in Washington… I will continue to fight to ensure that no bureaucratic fine print stands in the way of getting Sandy-impacted homeowners fully back on their feet.”
“National Flood answers to no one but Congress and Congress is letting it go on,” said Dave Charles, a public adjuster with 30 years of storm experience.
“Their house is a total loss because of the foundation. They got a meager amount that won’t even cover anything,” Charles said, adding, “The exclusion is not meant for these wall of water flood claims, where rising water clearly moves the foundation and that’s the reason why so many people, including these fine folks are getting ripped off.”
Since the storm, Mittleman and Parks felt forced to take on three mortgages, multiple loans and are still paying for an apartment.
They said FEMA gave them less than a third of what they need to rebuild their house. The denial Of the foundation, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars, was the last straw.
“Right now we have enough money to get house down, put pilings in and we ordered a modular house. If we get the money, then we will move forward, if not, we may have to walk away,” said Mittleman.
That is something this Freeport family of more than decade does not want to do.
“It would be really hard to walk away. We love Freeport. We have neighbors, a church, we want to stay in this community. To have to leave it would be really upsetting to us,” said Parks.
In the meantime, they are trying to stay positive, if only for their 10-year-old son.
“I tell him the only good thing that’s come out of this is that you learn to stand up when you’ve been wronged, you fight back,” said Mittleman.
The rally is open to anyone concerned with their Sandy claims with NFIP/FEMA.
Public adjusters and lawyers will be on hand to offer free advice.
Charles says an important action homeowners must take is to file a Proof of Loss with NFIP. That is a process initially waived after the storm hit but will expire at the year mark of the storm.
Proof of Loss is what you have to file through NFIP in order to try and appeal for more coverage from FEMA.
For more information on Proof of Loss filings and Earth Movement concerns, click here.