Hurricane Harvey: Time To File Insurance Claims, Apply For FEMA Aid Is Now – Patch.com

 In U.S.
AUSTIN, TX — For victims of flooding along the Texas Gulf Coast—many of them wading around in water that’s seeped into their homes while waiting to be rescued—filling out paperwork is the last thing on their minds. Buy filing for insurance claims and federal aid as quickly as possible ensures victims can be made whole sooner.

New law benefiting insurers takes effect Sept. 1

In terms of insurance claims, policyholders are urged to file before Sept. 1. That’s not the deadline, mind you, but filing before that date could protect claimants fully before a new law passed in the interest of the big insurance companies takes effect on Sept. 1.

In what critics view as a pro-business move benefiting the giant insurance companies, the Republican-led Texas Legislature recently passed new insurance-related laws potentially limiting property owners’ rights to make claims. The pro-business tweaks affect the setting in motion on carriers’ decisions whether to accept claims, deny them, delay them or reject them altogether. One key provision of the new law slashes the long-established penalties assessed to insurers not responding to claims in a timely manner from 18 percent of a set amount to just 10 percent.

With that deterrent for late action by insurers now gone, the response time could be dragged on, consumer advocates warn. Texas Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit consumer advocacy group founded in 1998, was virtually alone in setting off alarm bells about the corrosive effect the changes to the law could have on consumers.

Ultimately, their efforts were unsuccessful in the face of powerful lobbyists helping write the new legislation and a formidable team of lawyers going to bat for the industry. Gov. Greg Abbott—now expressing support to hurricane victims at intermittent press conferences updating flooding conditions—signed the law, formally named House Bill 1774, benefiting insurers on May 27. Informally, it’s known as the Blue Tarp bill.

Part of the challenge of conveying the new law’s detrimental effect on policyholders is the complicated and arcane nature of the changes, Ware Wendell, executive director at Texas Watch, told Patch in a telephone interview. Even the most savvy can get confused; in a post widely circulated on social media, Texas State Bar President-elect Joe Longley suggested policyholders had only until Sept. 1 to file claims, which is not the case.

“It is very important that you do not procrastinate in making a claim,” Longley wrote to victims of Hurricane Harvey in a part of his missive that is accurate.

Related story: Hurricane Harvey: 8 Reported Dead, More Misery Ahead In Houston

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