Flood insurance policy holders in areas of Louisiana where a disaster has been declared will be able to receive thousands of dollars in early, partial settlement payments without having to wait for an adjuster to inspect their damaged property, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday.
The new policy, which has two components, is designed to speed up recovery efforts by getting settlement cash into the hands of some flood victims faster than usual.
The first change allows homeowners to get up to $5,000 each for a policy covering their home and a policy covering its contents simply by signing an advance payment form, which can be obtained from the company that services their policies.
FEMA said insurers should be automatically giving these forms to residents when they file claims, but they can be picked up at insurance company offices.
Ideally, funds could be deposited directly into bank accounts as early as the next day, FEMA said.
The second change allows for up to half of the estimated settlement amount to be paid out if the homeowner has a copy of a contractor's estimate and gets the property inspected by an adjuster.
Normally, a homeowner doesn’t get a settlement until after a final “proof of loss” statement is signed, which takes weeks. Under the new rules for the parishes declared federal disaster areas, half of the declared amounts could be paid out within several days of the inspection.
Flood insurance is generally less common than policy makers and industry officials would like it to be. Only one in seven Baton Rouge households had flood insurance, according to the most recent data, and the percentage of flood victims who were uninsured is expected to be even higher than typical because so many of the areas that went under water were in areas previously thought safe.
Only a quarter of the homes in East Baton Rouge Parish are considered to be in high-risk areas, which contributes to an overall flood-insured rate of only 14 percent.
In Livingston Parish, just under 60 percent of the homes are in high-risk areas, and flood insurance participation is at a healthier, but still low, 22 percent.
At the end of June, there were 50,333 people with flood insurance in East and West Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes and 18,722 policy holders in the hard-hit Acadiana parishes of Lafayette, Vermilion and Acadia.
In Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes, there were 6,723 people with flood insurance.
FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre could not immediately say how many adjusters are working in the area, but the agency has adjusters coming down from other states and has expedited its training process for adjusters who were licensed as recently as a couple of years ago.
Policyholders with questions about their policy and the flood insurance program can call (800) 621-3362 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and select Option 2.
Policyholders with questions specifically about an insurance claim can be transferred to their insurance carrier for additional assistance.