Nearly $208 million in insurance payments in 6,600 checks haven’t been released from banks to victims of Superstorm Sandy, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
He says his administration is working with banks to pay the money more quickly. The insurance company payments must get over several bureaucratic hurdles when homeowners have mortgages on their properties.
State Financial Services Superintendent Ben Lawsky said Monday the banks are cooperating in trying to get the funding to victims faster so they can pay for repairs. He said his office has received hundreds of complaints from Sandy victims.
Much of the delay is because federal mortgage agencies require proof of repair work before paying insurance reimbursements.
“After insurance companies have sent homeowners checks to pay for repairs, the money should not be sitting with (banks and other lenders) because of red tape,” Cuomo said of the companies that manage mortgage accounts. “Servicers need to use maximum discretion to get money into homeowners’ hands as quickly as possible.”
Lawsky said insurance companies and banks — regulated by his office — are working together to speed the process. Some of that is simply applying more workers to the task. Other steps include electronically transmitting payments rather than sending them through the mail.
Four banks alone — Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank and JP Morgan Chase — have 4,000 checks worth $131 million that they and Lawsky are trying to free up faster.
“In December, we reached an agreement with the servicers that resulted in freeing up a portion of insurance funds,” Lawsky said. “But we are seeing now that the money is still not moving as quickly as homeowners need. While we understand there are some limits on how servicers release funds, we want to make sure that servicers are pushing those limits and getting insurance money out quickly.”
The December agreement speeded smaller, emergency repair checks to homeowners. But now larger checks are being issued and companies are being stricter about verifying the repairs. That verification is required by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government programs that help many middle class homeowners secure mortgages.
Lawsky is contacting banks now. He said homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments and suffered only partial losses during Sandy should be subject to less restrictive and time-consuming reviews and approvals.