Benjamin Lawsky is superintendent of New York's Banking Department, which will become the state Department of Financial Services following an October merger with the state's Insurance Department. He was in Essex County Wednesday to meet with elected officials and survey damage left behind by Irene's wake.
State Senator Betty Little was also there to update town officials on steps she's taking to alleviate the financial burden that's been heaped upon flood victims.
Superintendent Lawsky came to Keene to get a firsthand look at flood damage, but he also came with a message for homeowners and businesses:
“We will motivate the insurance companies with every tool we have to make sure they pay the claims they owe under their contracts.”
Lawsky says his agency’s job is to regulate the banking and insurance industries in New York. In this instance, the focus is on insurance claims.
According to Lawsky, many of the home and business owners across northern New York have never filed a claim following a natural disaster.
Lawsky says the first thing that people need to do is grab their policy and get on the phone.
“Call your insurance company, tell them about the damage you’ve suffered," Lawsky said, "tell them to get someone down here to adjust it right away; and if the insurance company is not being responsive, you should call our hotline or come see our guys and we will call the insurance company and tell them to get down here–this is their job.”
Reports about insurance companies shirking their duties have been few and far between, Lawsky notes. The bigger problem is that many property owners just don’t have flood insurance.
Meanwhile, State Senator Betty Little explained that she’s working with lawmakers to alleviate the tax burden on homes that have been destroyed or severely damaged by Irene.
She said she’s been talking with the Senate council about drawing up legislation that would allow towns to reduce assessments on homes damaged by more than 50 percent.
“The last thing somebody wants in January when they can’t live in their house and they’ve lost everything is a tax bill,” said Little. “And I think that’s something we need to get in motion to see where we can go with that.”
Dede Scozzafava of the State Department updated local officials on a new task force put together to coordinate rebuilding efforts across the North Country.
Scozzafava says a consortium of state agencies is leading the effort and has assigned a representative to both Clinton and Essex County. Those reps, she said, will be able to answer questions on financial assistance, code enforcement, and other flood-related issues:
“You will only have to go through one person to access all of the information you need. I know it’s in motion to provide as much help and technical assistance as we can going forward.”
Superintendent Lawsky says consumers with questions pertaining to insurance claims can call a new agency hotline.
That number is 1-800-339-1759.