Harvey Future Proof

Commissioner John Sharp walks with Maj. Gen. John F. Nichols, right, following a briefing on Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts at the new FEMA Joint Field Office, in Austin. Sharp, the recovery czar over Texas’ rebuild after Harvey, says his new job is “future-proofing” for the next disaster.

AP/File photo

Several of the state’s insurance associations are upset after comments by the newly appointed “recovery czar” about how agents have been handling Hurricane Harvey claims.

Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp in a recent interview with the Texas Tribune, said insurance agents needed to step up and write checks to hurricane victims.

The comments drew the ire of officials with the Insurance Council of Texas and the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas, which both released statements criticizing Sharp as misguided.

“His comment is troubling because insurance companies have already paid out an estimated $2 billion in insurance claims on flooded automobiles and wind-damaged homes due to Harvey’s 130 mph winds and massive flooding,” said Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of Galveston County. It dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of this county, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding an estimated 20,000 homes in the county and devastating parts of Houston.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in September appointed Sharp as the leader for the state’s hurricane rebuilding efforts.

Sharp’s comments came after stories he heard in the field about insurance agents directing people to the Federal Emergency Management Agency before coming to them, said Laylan Copelin, spokesman for the chancellor.

“His point was that for customers paying premiums, insurance companies should pay up front and right away to help them,” Copelin said. “That was all his comment was really about. They shouldn’t tell people to wait on FEMA.”

Insurance Council of Texas officials weren’t aware of any instances of agents directing customers to FEMA, Hanna said.

Hanna did criticize Sharp’s comments about agents needing to pay claims as inaccurate and that it was the companies that pay claims under policy.

“Our agents are doing their jobs,” Hanna said. “We’ve already paid hundreds of millions in claims. While we don’t deal in flood insurance at all, we handle flooded cars and 75 percent of all auto claims have already been settled.”

Hanna said he didn’t understand where Sharp’s comments were coming from and that he had not heard of any slow processes related to flooded automobiles or wind damage.

“From everything I have heard, we are handling this as well as could be expected,” Hanna said.

Hanna referred to the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas for further comments, but officials declined additional comments beside what was said in a written statement.

Despite the criticism, Sharp stood behind his comments, Copelin said.

“Chancellor Sharp doesn’t think everyone is doing it, but he’d heard about it enough that he was just pointing it out,” Copelin said.

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; matt.degrood@galvnews.com

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