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NJ gov.: Fed flood insurance program a 'disgrace'

UNION BEACH, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday the National Flood Insurance Program's handling of claims in New Jersey has been "a disgrace," complaining that the program has been far too slow to resolve claims from Superstorm Sandy, with 70 percent of cases unresolved three months after the disaster.

The governor said excessive paperwork, inadequate staffing, cumbersome audits and the threat of financial penalties to carriers and adjusters is interfering with the timely issuance of payments, prolonging the suffering of the thousands of New Jerseyans hurt by Sandy.

"I've been as patient as I'm going to be with the National Flood Insurance Program," Christie said. "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."

Sandy damaged or destroyed about 346,000 housing units in New Jersey, resulting in estimated damage and future storm mitigation costs of $37 billion.

The state and charities are waiting for the federal settlements so they can know how much to award in grants to help people rebuild, the Republican governor said during a briefing in the heavily damaged Jersey Shore community of Union Beach.

Christie said he is asking New Jersey's congressional delegation to pressure the Federal Emergency Management Agency to improve the performance of the flood insurance program. A FEMA spokesman said he had no immediate comment.

The governor complained that only about 30 percent of flood claims have been settled, or closed, compared with nearly 80 percent of the more than 430,000 other insurance claims filed by residents and businesses.

He said "it is imperative that insurance claims be brought to final resolution so that residents can make critical decisions on if and how to rebuild."

Christie also announced that the state Department of Banking and Insurance will start requiring private insurers to respond within five days to Sandy-related complaints filed with state. Insurance companies currently have 15 business days to respond to the department.

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Associated Press Writer Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton contributed to this report.

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