Nassau and Suffolk counties were hit particularly hard by Sandy. The two counties have taken in about 40 percent of the state's $906 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency grants toward rental assistance, home repairs and other costs not covered by private insurers, according to the agency. In Nassau County, 37,000 homeowners have been approved for $293 million in federal aid, while 9,300 Suffolk County residents have received $69 million.
The Nassau County Bar has helped more than 650 people in 14 Sandy-specific legal clinics with a group of about 80 volunteer lawyers, some of whom face storm-related legal hurdles of their own.
"It's amazing to see our volunteers who've lost their homes are still able to come out here and advise people on issues that they themselves are just starting to work through," said Marian Rice, president of the Nassau County Bar.
'Lack of Understanding'
Criminal defense lawyer Karl Seman, who has offices in Garden City and Melville, has volunteered at three Nassau County bar clinics.
He, his wife and two young children were out of their Bellmore home, which is in an evacuation zone, for about a week after Sandy. Four feet of water caused about $100,000 in damage to their basement and first floor, and the loss of big-ticket items such as the hot water heater, washing machine and dryer.
Seman said he has not heard from his insurer but expects to receive his claim check "any day now." In the volunteer clinics, he said he has seen a "general lack of understanding" among homeowners on what is covered by their flood and homeowners' insurance policies, he said.
"The next battle is going to be with the mortgage holders, because that $100,000 repair check doesn't go to you, it goes to you and your bank," Seman said.
In their final settlement offers to homeowners, insurers often issue checks jointly to homeowners and their bank or mortgage lender, requiring the bank's approval before homeowners can access the funds.
The Nassau County bar said it has seen an uptick in Sandy-related legal questions at its monthly foreclosure clinics, which it offered before the storm. In some cases, banks are withholding insurance settlements from homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgages until they can make the back payments.
An investigation released Feb. 12 by the state's Department of Financial Services showed that $208 million in Sandy funds have not been disbursed by banks to 6,611 borrowers. Governor Andrew Cuomo has called on the banks to speed the funds' release and use "maximum discretion" to get money into homeowners' hands.
In Discepolo's case, her bank said it would give her 20 percent of the settlement offer from her home insurer up front, and another third once the bank sends an inspector to her home to obtain proof that repairs are being made. That proof-of-repairs requirement is in accordance with rules of federal mortgage agencies, but keeps money from homeowners who don't have cash on hand.