U.S. Sen. John Kennedy says he's filing a bill on Capitol Hill this week to give FEMA direct power to fire engineers and other consultants if they are accused of mishandling insurance claims under the National Flood Insurance Program.
Kennedy said his bill was inspired by a WWL-TV investigation in February that showed how consultants who were criticized by a federal judge in New York after Hurricane Sandy were still able to keep handling claims from last year's flooding in Louisiana.
WWL-TV has “done a service to the American taxpayer and (has) done a service to everybody who’s done the right thing and taken their hard-earned money and bought flood insurance,” Kennedy said. “The people who did that, by God, they’re entitled to be paid when they flood. And if there are consultants out there who are treating them unfairly, they ought to be fired.”
Kennedy’s bill would allow FEMA to write rules establishing a threshold for removing consultants from the NFIP. It also would set up an appeals process for consultants accused of wrongdoing. It also would apply to future actions, not to what consultants have been accused of doing in the past.
Kennedy has focused his ire on two Metairie firms: an engineering company called U.S. Forensic, which inspects homes after a flood event to determine if it caused the damage; and a law firm led by Gerald Nielsen, who has spent decades representing insurance companies in disputes against policyholders.
A federal judge in New York blasted both U.S. Forensic and Nielsen for the work they did for an insurance company that denied a claim from Hurricane Sandy. Both Nielsen and U.S. Forensic managing partner Gary Bell have stood by their and their companies’ actions in that case.
FEMA pays claims under the federal flood insurance program and reimburses the insurance companies for their expenses when they hire consultants like U.S. Forensic or pay legal fees for attorneys like Nielsen.
After CBS’ “60 Minutes” questioned engineering reports by U.S. Forensic in a story from 2015, FEMA was forced to reopen thousands of Hurricane Sandy insurance claims. Nielsen and other outside attorneys were off those cases and FEMA settled with many of the claimants.
FEMA’s flood insurance chief, Brad Kieserman, accused the engineering company of fraud and vowed to bar them from the program. But his successor, Roy Wright, determined that was not possible without a criminal conviction.
WWL-TV followed up on the story when Louisiana flood victims again found themselves fighting insurance companies over U.S. Forensic’s engineering reports. Kennedy said that alerted him and others that the problems that roiled senators two years earlier had never been addressed.
“What happens in the world today is issues come, they’re talked about and everybody moves on,” Kennedy said. “WWL has brought this back to the table. I really appreciate that.”