UNION BEACH, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday the National Flood Insurance Program's handling of claims in New Jersey "has stunk," complaining that the program has been far too slow to get payments to victims of Superstorm Sandy, with tens of thousands of cases unresolved more than 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 many New Jersey residents hurt by Sandy.
"Our local insurance companies have been doing a great job of settling and moving these claims very quickly," Christie said. "The national flood insurance plan has stunk."
"I've been as patient as I'm going to be," the governor added. "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."
At a briefing in hard-hit Union Beach, the governor said only 30 percent of Sandy flood claims had been settled in New Jersey.
But the Federal Emergency Management Agency said later Tuesday that the latest data shows 37,000 of 73,000 New Jersey claims, or a little more than 50 percent, have been closed.
Likewise, the agency said more than half of the total 140,000 Sandy flood claims made in all states have been settled, with $3.7 billion paid out to storm victims. In New York, it said 32,000 of 56,000 claims were closed.
"FEMA's top priority is to get resources to those in need as quickly as possible, while also meeting our requirements under the law. That's why we've given our private sector partners additional flexibility to quickly pay advance and partial payments, and reduced paperwork requirements so the process can move as quickly as possible," the agency said in a statement.
In New Jersey, Sandy damaged or destroyed about 346,000 housing units, resulting in estimated damage and future storm mitigation costs of $37 billion.
With Wednesday marking the 100th day since Sandy struck, the state and charities are still waiting for the federal settlements so they can determine how much to award in grants to help people rebuild, the Republican governor said.
Christie said he is asking New Jersey's congressional delegation to pressure FEMA to improve the performance of the flood insurance program, which he called "a disgrace."