Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

July 15, 2013

OUR VIEW: Want to help? Target insurers

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — It appears that Lockport will receive federal disaster aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency after all. That’s a good thing because if the city wasn’t eligible, all of the money spent to repair roads, the wastewater treatment facility and to pay overtime would have fallen on the taxpayers’ shoulders. In a city where taxes are already too high, that wouldn’t have sat well with residents.

The deluge that greeted the city on June 28 brought out a who’s who of politicians pledging to help the city and its residents. The city has its answer but we’re still waiting to see if homeowners will become eligible for assistance after some 600 basements flooded. While we’re not sure if they should receive assistance, there’s one thing that is crystal clear: If the politicians really want to help, they can do so by going after the insurance companies and telling them to cough up money that’s due to Lockport residents.

When it comes to FEMA aid, how far does the agency have to reach? A handful of washed out streets and a few hundred flooded basements do not compare to the types of disasters the agency usually addresses; hurricanes, catastrophic tornadoes, nuclear emergencies, severe drought and hundreds of miles of flooded rivers (think the Mississippi and Missouri rivers). Disasters that are life-altering (and sometimes, life-ending) events.

Also, FEMA does provide annual support to the Red Cross and other disaster relief groups — money to be used at their discretion for local disasters. We see this most often after a family has been burned out of a home. So, there may be money available at the local level; we just need to look beyond the government to find it.

So, how can the politicians help when no one in Lockport lost a home? If Sen. Charles Schumer, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy want to help, they can do so by rattling the cages at the insurance companies for holding up money that is due to the people that support them.

People are being told that their insurance doesn’t cover sewer backups, or some other technicality. Or the insurance companies play their little shell game: If it’s called a flood, they’ll say it was a sewer backup. If they’re told it’s a sewer backup, they’ll claim it’s a flood. Anything to avoid paying, even though their supposed existence is to help people. And when an insurance company does pay, they usually place the clients in a high-risk pool or drop them altogether.

Of course, insurance companies consist of one of the largest lobbying groups in politics. It would take a politician with a solid-steel backbone to take them on.

But there may be no other choice. The city, which usually has to rely on taxpayers for financial support will this time get bailed out by FEMA. Taxpayers have to deal with insurance companies. The city has its help, where’s the help for residents?