SonomaCountyRecovers: Official recovery information for Sonoma County fires

Key Points

Government-Sponsored Debris Removal Insurance Collection Process

As part of Sonoma County accepting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s assistance with debris removal after the 2017 fires, FEMA requires the County to:

  1. Collect and remit applicable homeowner’s insurance proceeds to CalOES or the Federal Government to prevent duplication of benefits as provided in the Stafford Act, and
  2. Make reasonable efforts to collect available and applicable insurance proceeds. The scope of the County’s due diligence is limited to the following three activities:
  • Manage the Right of Entry paperwork.
  • Send insurance companies an invoice based on the cost notices received from CalOES/FEMA with a Notice that their insured entered the government sponsored debris removal program and assigned their coverage benefits to the County.
  • If an insurance company does not respond, the County will send the same information to the insured.

Based on insurance companies’ responses to the County’s invoice, the County will do the following:

  1. No response. As part of the County’s reasonable efforts, it will send the identical information to the property owner.
  2. Insurance Company Pays the County. The County will notify all property owners that it has received money from their insurance company. If the property owner incurred additional expenses for debris removal or repairs to their property for damage caused by the debris removal process, they may submit a Request for Reimbursement Form and documentation and receipts for the necessary work. If the policy allows for debris removal insurance proceeds to be used for rebuilding or purchasing a replacement home, and either have not been completed, property owners may submit a Request for Reimbursement Form and state that they will contact the County upon completion of their rebuild or purchase of a replacement home to reconcile any remaining funds that could apply to debris removal costs. If the policy has a specified amount for debris removal, and the property owner has not confirmed the debris removal on their property is completed, they can submit a Request for Reimbursement Form stating the circumstances, and that they will contact the County when they have confirmation to reconcile any remaining funds that could apply to debris removal costs.
  3. Insurance Company Pays the Insured. Property owners should contact the County. If a property owner is turning over all debris insurance funds, he/she may submit an Insured Statement and supporting documentation. If a property owner is retaining any of the insurance funds due to incurred additional expenses for debris removal or repairs to their property for damage  caused by the debris removal process, he/she should submit a Withholding Form and supporting documentation, and remaining debris removal insurance proceeds, if any. If the policy allows for debris removal insurance proceeds to be used for rebuilding or purchasing a replacement home, and either have not been completed, property owners may submit a Withholding form declaring that they will contact the County upon completion of their rebuild or purchase of a replacement home to reconcile any remaining funds that could apply to debris removal costs. If a property owner doesn’t know if they will incur expenses for additional debris removal and/or expenses caused by the government debris removal process they may complete a Withholding Form stating that they will contact the County upon completion of their rebuild or purchase of a replacement home to reconcile any remaining funds that could apply to debris removal costs.

The Insured Statement, Request for Reimbursement form, and Withholding form contain language that the property owner has not received a duplication of benefits regarding debris removal activities and insurance payment(s), that all information submitted is true and he/she understands the County is relying on the truth of those statements.

The County’s role in this process will be as a “pass through” agency between property owners and CalOES/FEMA. The County will not play a role in adjusting or settling debris insurance claims. Outside resources for property owners who need assistance in negotiating with his/her insurance company may contact United Policyholders, State Department of Insurance, Legal Aid, and/or private attorneys.

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.

The County will track all correspondence, documentation and receipts and provide that information to FEMA, as well as any debris removal insurance money collected.

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