Barbara and David Galler of Howard Beach had 3 feet of water in the basement of their 91st Street home after Hurricane Sandy, with damage to their furnace, hot water heater, air conditioners and washer and dryer. They also lost their two cars to the storm.
“I was sitting by my living room window watching the water come down the block,” Barbara Galler told Financial Planning Association staffer Mark Sallinger at the company’s free seminar at St. Helen’s Father Dooley Hall in Howard Beach on Dec. 15. “The water just came into the house and started coming up the steps: scary, very scary.”
Sallinger told the Gallers to document their losses to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and their insurance company.
“Itemize as best you can everything you had and then contact FEMA,” he instructed them.
The Gallers were two of the more than 50 residents who attended the free financial planning seminar sponsored by state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and the New York Chapter of the Financial Planning Association, aimed at helping victims of Hurricane Sandy who have taken a financial hit with planning their personal finances.
The FPA staff was on hand to help the seminar’s attendees with one-on-one advice regarding FEMA, insurance companies, budgeting and other financial issues. Addabbo said the goal of the one-on-one approach was to help residents affected by the storm who have financial questions or concerns.
“Everybody has sustained an individual or unique issue with FEMA or their insurance company, their job or any other financial impact,” he said. “What we’re doing here at this stage is another step at trying to get people back on their feet.”
Certified financial planner Michael Terry said he was happy with the number of residents who attended the seminar. He said a majority of people he and his staff spoke with had questions about claiming casualty losses from the storm on their income tax returns and dealing with their insurance companies.
Terry added that many residents who had flood insurance were disappointed with the amount they received for their losses. He said he also discussed home equity versus other types of loans to rebuild. When one resident told him she had some cash value in her insurance policy, he suggested that as a good place to borrow money from.
“With cash value insurance you don’t necessarily have to pay it back,” said Terry.
Many residents were looking to understand better why their insurance companies were not paying as much as they thought they should and asked what they could do to contest that. The attendees were also looking to understand the difference between the FEMA cap, which is $31,000, and the FEMA grant, which is an additional $10,000. Terry said that a resident can only get the grant if he reaches the cap.
While most people said they were happy with what they received from FEMA, they wished they could have gotten more, he added, and many attendees did not understand why one homeowner got the full FEMA amount and the next-door neighbor with the same damage got a lesser amount.
“That was kind of mind-boggling,” Terry said.
He advised people to appeal FEMA’s decision if they believed they qualified for more money for their damaged homes and contents. He noted that some people he spoke with who appealed were successful and received more money from FEMA.