FAQs for Debris Insurance
1. What is the County’s role in the debris removal insurance collection process?
In exchange for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assisting the City of Santa Rosa and County of Sonoma (County) with debris removal following the October 2017 wildfires through the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program, the County is responsible for collecting information from participating property owners to determine whether any insurance proceeds designated for debris removal need to be collected by the County to help offset the cost of the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program. Federal law prohibits a duplication of benefits (see question #2), and the County is obligated to ensure that duplications do not occur. Insurance policies vary, and the County will not play a role in adjusting or settling any insurance claims for debris removal. Other than conducting random internal audits as part of the County’s due diligence, the County is not obligated to independently verify or investigate paperwork provided by property owners. Other than possible follow-up letters, at this time the County does not anticipate any additional activities to facilitate property owners’ payment of insurance proceeds to CalOES/FEMA.
2. What does a duplication of benefits mean?
Duplication of benefits refers to assistance from more than one source that is used for the same activity. In this instance, a duplication of benefits would occur if a property is cleared by FEMA and the property owner was paid by their insurance company for the removal of that debris and keeps the money. A duplication of benefits would not occur if FEMA cleared a property and the owner incurred additional to complete the debris removal and the owner was paid insurance funds for the additional expenses.
3. How will I know what part of my insurance coverage is available for debris removal?
You should work with your insurance company to determine the available insurance funds that are designated for debris removal coverage in your policy. These funds are referred to as “debris removal designated insurance.” If you need additional assistance, you can contact the California Department of Insurance (800-927-4357; http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/101-help/index.cfm), United Policyholders (415-393-9990; http://uphelp.org) or Sonoma County Legal Aid, (707-542-1290; http://legalaidsc.org/) for assistance.
4. What portion of my homeowner’s policy will the County collect for debris removal?
It depends how funds designated for debris removal are handled in your policy. You should consult with your insurance carrier to determine these amounts and how and when they are paid (see question #3). Generally, homeowner policies provide debris removal coverage in one of two ways:
- Specified or Separate Amount: Some policies include debris removal insurance coverage in a separate, specified debris clause. Such policies may provide a specific dollar amount or provide debris removal coverage as a percentage of the other coverage limits listed in the policy (for example, 5% of the policy limits for the primary structure, other structures, and/or personal property). In this case, the County will only collect up to the specified amount designated in the debris removal clause. You will not owe the County any additional money, even if the actual costs to remove the debris exceed the amount designated in your insurance policy for debris removal.
- No Specified Amount: Another type of debris removal insurance coverage does not have a specified amount but includes the costs of debris removal in the total insurance proceeds provided for the primary structure and/or other structure, or personal property. If you have this type of policy, the County will only attempt to collect insurance proceeds for debris removal after you have rebuilt your home. The County will only collect money that remains in your insurance policy for debris removal, if any, after the rebuild is complete or you have purchased a replacement home. If you spend all of your insurance proceeds rebuilding or on the purchase of a replacement home, you will owe nothing for the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program.
5. If FEMA/CalOES’s costs exceed my insurance coverage for debris removal, will I be required to pay the difference?
No. The only money the County will collect on behalf of the State and Federal government is insurance proceeds designated for debris removal, less any offsetting expenses (see question #6).
6. What if I incurred my own additional expenses for work related to debris removal?
You may use your insurance proceeds to cover expenses for work related to additional debris removal, or for repairs required on your property resulting from the debris removal process (offsetting expenses). You should submit documentation supporting your additional expenses (see Instructions at https://www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/). If there are any designated debris removal insurance funds remaining after you are reimbursed for your offsetting expenses, that balance would be due to CalOES/FEMA. Qualified expenses could include any of the following:
- Expenses incurred by a property owner to remove additional debris from their parcel that was not included in the government-sponsored debris removal program.
- Burned tree removal, provided the activity for which the costs were incurred was otherwise covered by the policy category.
- Expenses used to remedy over-excavation issues as a result of the government-sponsored program.
- Expenses used to repair property that was damaged as a result of the government-sponsored debris removal program.
Be prepared to submit documentation and receipts to the County if you seek to offset the amount of the cost report (see Instructions at https://www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/).
7. What is the difference between a cost report and an invoice?
The County has received a cost report from CalOES/FEMA that is a breakdown of charges for debris removal per parcel. Based on the information in the cost report, the County has prepared a per-parcel invoice to submit to every insurance company and copied to every property owner. The information in the cost notice is identical to the information in the invoice.
8. I heard the County is contacting my insurance company for information. What information is the County requesting from my carrier?
The County is invoicing all insurance companies based on cost reports received from CalOES/FEMA for each individual property, and all property owners will get a copy. In addition, the County is requesting insurance companies provide the following information for each policy that insured a property that participated in the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program: A copy of the policy and/or declarations page and the amount in the policy dedicated for debris removal coverage (see Question #3).
9. What form is the County requesting I fill out?
The County is requesting that one of three forms be submitted by every property owner. The following information should assist you in determining which form is appropriate for your circumstance.
Reimbursement Form. This form is to be completed and submitted by property owners requesting reimbursement for all or a portion of the debris related insurance money that was paid to the County. In addition to the Reimbursement Form, documentation and receipts for the necessary work should be submitted (photographs, invoices, statements, cancelled check, etc.).
Withholding Form. This form is to be completed and submitted by property owners who have received debris related insurance money, incurred offsetting expenses, and are not turning over to the County the full amount of the debris related insurance money. In addition to the Withholding Form, any statement from your insurance company verifying the amount of debris related insurance money paid to you, and documentation and receipts for the necessary work should be submitted (photographs, invoices, statements, cancelled check, etc.).
Insured Statement. This statement is to be submitted by all other property owners who are turning over debris related insurance money to the County and not submitting a Reimbursement Form or a Withholding Form. Property owners who are turning their entire debris related insurance money to the County should submit an Insured Statement with their payment. Property owners who are retaining their debris related insurance money until a later date should submit an Insured Statement. (NOTE: The Withholding Form is to be used when the property owner does not intend to make payment to the County at any time, and as a result of further necessary debris-related work on their property. The property owner who is deferring payment to the County to a later date should use the Insured Statement, and include language that he/she will contact the County at a later date to reconcile any possible debris-related insurance money that could be due to CalOES/FEMA.
The County has prepared sample language (see Insured Statement) for some (but not all) of the different scenarios where a property owner would or would not pay their debris related insurance money. All property owners may use their own phrasing rather than the samples provided.
The Withholding Form, Request for Reimbursement Form, and the Insured Statement all contain language that the property owner has not received a duplication of benefits (see question #2) and that the statements contained in the document are true and correct and the property owner understands the County is relying on the truth and accuracy of the statement.
10. If my insurance company has already paid me debris removal designated insurance funds, and I receive the County’s invoice, when is payment due?
- If your insurance policy has a specified amount for debris removal designated insurance funds, you do not owe anything until you have completed your property’s debris removal (including trees) and/or completed any repairs to your property caused by the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program.
- If your insurance company does not have a specified amount for debris removal insurance funds, you do not owe anything until you have completed your property’s rebuild.
11. If my policy does not specify an amount for debris removal, will you still seek to collect CalOES/FEMA’s debris removal costs from my insurance carrier or from me?
Yes, but only to the extent that insurance funds remain after your rebuild is complete or you have purchased a replacement home. All insurance carriers will receive an invoice for CalOES/FEMA’s costs, with a copy to property owners.
12. I received a letter from CalOES/FEMA saying the government would not collect debris removal insurance funds used to address unresolved debris removal issues. Does that mean I won’t get a bill for the Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Program?
Your insurance company will receive an invoice for CalOES/FEMA’s debris removal costs, with a copy to you. If you received such a letter from CalOES/FEMA and incurred expenses to resolve debris removal issue(s), you my be reimbursed by your insurance company or the County out of your debris removal insurance proceeds. If there are unused debris removal insurance funds after you are reimbursed, the County will collect that money to pass on to CalOES/FEMA. If there are no debris removal insurance funds remaining after you are reimbursed, you will owe nothing to CalOES/FEMA..
13. I have received all available insurance money from my policy, and I haven’t started rebuilding so I don’t know what other debris removal expenses I may incur. When I get the invoice, when will payment be expected?
Once you receive a copy of the invoice, you should submit an Insured Statement acknowledging these facts, and stating that you will contact the County upon confirmation that you have no additional debris removal work necessary nor any repairs necessary as a result of the debris removal process and reconcile any possible unused debris removal insurance funds to be passed on to CalOES/FEMA. (See Instructions at www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/.)
14. My insurance company won’t release debris removal designated insurance funds until they get an invoice. If they pay the County directly and I have offsetting debris removal expenses, how will that be handled? Will the County write me a check?
You will be notified when the County receives debris removal designated insurance funds from your insurance company. At that time, you will have the opportunity to submit a Request for Reimbursement form, documentation and receipts for privately incurred debris removal work and/or repair costs for property damaged during the debris removal, at which time the County can issue you a reimbursement check. (See Instructions at www.sonomacountyrecovers.org/debris-removal/.)
15. If I receive debris removal designated insurance funds from my insurance company after the County sends out invoices, what should I do?
If the check is made payable to you and the County of Sonoma, you should endorse the check and submit it to the County at the below address, and the County will pass on funds to CalOES/FEMA. If you incurred eligible offsetting expenses to resolve debris removal issues, submit all supporting documentation and receipts with your check. The County will deposit the check and can issue a reimbursement check to you for those documented offsetting expenses.
If the check is made out to you, you may either:
- (1) Deposit the check into your bank account and write the County a check, or
- (2) Endorse the check over to the County. If you incurred eligible offsetting expenses to resolve debris removal issues, submit all documentation and receipts with the check. If you have endorsed the check over to the County, the County will deposit the check and can issue a reimbursement check to you for those documented offsetting expenses.
NOTE: If the check is made out to two parties as “Jane and John Doe,” both parties must endorse the check over to the County. If the check is made out to two parties as “Jane or John Doe,” either party can endorse the check over to the County.
Checks should be delivered or mailed to:
County of Sonoma
Debris Removal Insurance Reimbursement
575 Administration Dr., Rm. 104-A
PO Box 14310
Santa Rosa, CA 95403