ROCKPORT, Texas – If one surveys the scene in Rockport, a common image emerges: homes blanketed with blue tarps.
The tarps are tied down in such a manner that they resemble architectural Band-Aids for the wounds absorbed by so many during Hurricane Harvey.
Channel 2 Investigates recently returned to the storm-ravaged area after we first exposed the problems facing Texas Windstorm Insurance Association policyholders in October.
Homeowners said adjusters came and went. “I have not heard a word from him,” they said.
Now, two months later, challenges persist for longtime TWIA customers, such as Craig Griffin.
“Obviously, the insurance money is moving pretty slow and that is holding us back,” Griffin said.
Griffin is on his second adjuster, but he tells Channel 2 Investigates that he dipped into his personal rainy day fund to cover what he says is a financial drought from TWIA.
“You know, the field adjusters came out and they all told a pretty good story that things are going to get done and that we are going to make you whole again, and then it all kind of falls apart,” he said.
A few miles away, Ed Rainwater said piecing life back together has been a long process.
Rainwater’s home is insured by TWIA, the only insurance option for the vast majority of coastal property owners. The agency finally provided Rainwater with a check before Thanksgiving, but he told Channel 2 Investigates it was only after multiple adjusters had been assigned to him.
“We have people all over town that have nightmare stories and we were one of those up until we got our third adjuster,” Rainwater said.
State Rep. Todd Hunter is familiar with the storyline.
“They are either getting a small amount or no attention, or personnel is changing so the same person isn’t coming back and it’s being delayed,” Hunter said.
Hunter admits he also has heard frustrations over lowball estimates.
“What I am hearing is: The assessment of what the damage is doesn’t seem to be what really the damage is. It seems to be a little low on the evaluation,” he said.
When asked why the lowballing of estimates is allowed, Hunter quickly responded, “I don’t know and we need to look into it more.”
That’s a strong statement, considering Hunter once had a professional relationship with TWIA.
“I have been a lobbyist for them,” he said.
Hunter lobbied for TWIA over 10 years ago, but said he will investigate his former client if the slow paying of people’s lives, as he calls it, continues.
“TWIA needs to be looked at,” Hunter said.
Seth Chandler, an insurance law professor at the University of Houston, said TWIA is in the middle of its own financial storm.
“They are not particularly well-funded,” Chandler said.
TWIA told Channel Two Investigates that, as of Dec. 5, it had approximately $1 billion in cash on hand, with an additional $3.9 billion available to help pay the more than 73,000 Harvey-related claims.
The agency said it is financially stable, however Chandler countered that its business model is anything but, due to the rising cost of providing insurance.
“They are caught in a debt trap they can never escape because the money they would like to squirrel away to pay claims is now being pumped overseas to reinsurers to keep their finances afloat,” Chandler said.
Money is what Craig Griffin needs to get his life back on track. He’s waiting, knowing he’ll have to keep fighting.
“This is my life and I’m going to get paid. Right now, I am not getting paid for everything, but it’s my life and I want to get it back,” Griffin said.
While property owners like Griffin said they are going to keep fighting, TWIA says it has paid more than $863 million on 57 percent of the claims post-Harvey.
The company also said its goal is to pay every dollar owed on a claim under the terms and conditions of the policy.
Channel 2 Investigates asked TWIA for a sit-down interview with its general manager, John Polak, but TWIA would only agree to the interview if we provided all of our questions in advance.
When Channel 2 Investigates informed TWIA that we are not in the business of giving our questions before our cameras are rolling, TWIA sent us an email stating, “We are declining your in-person interview request at this time.”