Florida citrus crop estimate shrinks again post-Irma

Florida citrus groves were severely damaged by Hurricane Irma. Provided.

Hurricane Irma continues to haunt Florida farmers as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tuesday once again decreased its monthly estimate of the state’s 2017-2018 citrus crop.

The USDA now says Florida will produce 46 million boxes of oranges, down 4 million boxes from November and 8 million boxes from October. The USDA makes its first estimate in October of each year and revises it monthly until the end of the season in July.  For more information go to https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Florida/Publications/Citrus/

   “This is exactly what we thought would happen as the true damage begins to rear its ugly head in the groves across Florida,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest grower organization. “Unfortunately the situation is going to get worse before it gets better; we think the actual size of the 2017-2018 crop will not be known until the season is over and all the fruit is picked.”

“Clearly, this lower estimate provides stark evidence that Congress needs to pass a citrus relief package so we can start to rebuild and put the industry on a path to sustainability while saving the communities that rely on citrus,” Sparks said.

On September 10  Hurricane Irma moved through the center of the state pounding Florida’s major citrus producing regions with up to 110 mph winds and 15 inches of rain. The hurricane blew fruit off the tree and caused widespread tree damage. A FCM survey of growers conducted post Irma pegged total fruit loss at almost 60 percent with some reports of 100 percent fruit loss in the Southwest part of the state.

Tuesday’s forecast represents a decline of more than 80 percent since the peak of citrus production at 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday, “While much of the state has recovered and moved on from Hurricane Irma, Florida’s citrus growers continue to grapple with the unprecedented damage, which is still unfolding in many groves. Florida’s growers need support and they need it as quickly as possible. I will continue to work with Governor Scott and leaders in Washington to get Florida’s growers the support and relief they need to rebuild.”

After Irma, Putnam announced that Florida citrus sustained more than $760 million in damages.

For more information about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FreshFromFlorida.com.

 

 

Watch out for hurricane-damaged boats likely to be up for sale

Watch out for boats that were damaged in this year’s storms that might be up for sale. Provided.

More than 63,000 boats were damaged as a result of the 2017 hurricanes. Some will be repaired and put up for sale.

Consumers in the market for a boat need to know what to look out for or they could end up with a storm-damaged lemon.

The nation’s largest advocacy, services and safety group for recreational boaters, Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), cautions used boat buyers that some boats affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are beginning to hit the market, and that getting a pre-purchase survey (called a Condition and Value survey) is very important.

“It’s not that you don’t want to buy a boat that’s been repaired, but you should have full knowledge of the repairs and know they were done correctly. It’s a transparency issue that will help you negotiate a fair price,” said BoatUS Consumer Affairs Director Charles Fort. The boating group offers eight tips to help you spot a boat that might have been badly damaged in a storm:

  1. Trace the history. When a car is totaled, the title is branded as salvaged or rebuilt, and buyers know up front that there was major damage at some point in the car’s history. But only a few states brand salvaged boats – Florida and Texas do not – and some states don’t require titles for boats. Anyone wishing to obscure a boat’s history need only cross state lines to avoid detection, which can be a tipoff. Look for recent gaps in the boat’s ownership, which may mean that it was at an auction or in a repair yard for a long time.
  2. Look for recent hull repairs. Especially on older boats, matching gelcoat is very difficult. Mismatched colors around a repaired area are often a giveaway and may signal nothing more than filler under the gelcoat, rather than a proper fiberglass repair.
  3. Look for new repairs or sealant at the hull-to-deck joint. Boats that bang against a dock during a storm often suffer damage there.
  4. Evidence of sinking. Check for consistent corrosion on interior hardware, such as rust on all hinges and drawer pulls. You might be able to spot an interior waterline inside a locker or an area hidden behind an interior structure.
  5. Corrosion in the electrical system. Corrosion on electrical items, such as lamps, connectors and behind breaker panels might mean the boat sank recently. Does the boat have all new electronics? Why?
  6. Look for evidence of major interior repairs. Fresh paint or gelcoat work on the inside of the hull and engine room is usually obvious. All new cushions and curtains may be a tipoff, too.
  7. Look for fresh paint on the engine. It may be covering exterior rust as well as interior damage.
  8. Ask the seller. In some states, a seller isn’t required to disclose if a boat was badly damaged unless you ask. If the seller hems and haws, keep looking.

Irma: 215K vehicle claims flood insurers on top of record Harvey

In the same season Hurricane Harvey is smashing records for vehicle insurance claims, a report out today says Hurricane Irma has generated a hefty number of its own in Florida — more than 215,000.

More than 422,000 claims in Texas include massive numbers of vehicles taken to lots to be auctioned off for parts or scrapped, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That blows past vehicle claims from Hurricane Katrina (about 300,000) and from Superstorm Sandy (250,500), says the Des Plaines, Ill.-based nonprofit organization funded by the insurance industry.

But Irma is not far behind with more than 215,000 vehicle claims in Florida, whether from flooding, wind-blown debris or other causes, the group says.

What does this mean for consumers? One issue to watch is flooded cars making their way to used-car lots or classified ads, NICB says.

While many flooded cars will sold for parts or scrapped, some unscrupulous merchants will buy a vehicle, clean it up, and take it to another state where they will obtain a “clean” title and sell it with no warning that it has been flooded, the organization cautions.

Consumers can check vehicle identification numbers but that won’t protect against all forms of shady dealing, such as cases where cars without comprehensive insurance to cover flood damage are cleaned up and sold without a record that they were flooded. Buyers should have cars checked out by a mechanic or watch for signs of water damage under carpets or in other places not easily visible.

Florida insurance commissioner David Altmaier told Florida’s Cabinet this week that “upward pressure” on homeowners’ rates is likely after the busy storm season.

Analysts expect increases in car insurance premiums as well, though how much is not yet clear.

Another matter is whether the record-breaking combination of storms puts financial pressure on insurers to delay or deny more claims than they normally might. Companies typically deny this, but groups including the Consumer Federation of America advise policyholders to be ready to challenge or appeal denials they believe are not justified.

Consumers with questions or complaints about insurance claims can contact Florida’s division of consumer services at (877) 693-5236.

 

Irma: Delay, denial complaints begin; insurer’s outlook downgraded

A month after Hurricane Irma, consumers are starting to let state agencies know of more than 150 complaints ranging from long waits for adjusters to denial of claims, officials told a Florida Senate committee Tuesday.

One issue: High hurricane deductibles, often 2 percent to 5 percent of a home’s worth, mean many consumers are paying thousands of dollars out of their own pocket before insurance kicks in. Nearly half the roughly 8,000 claims resolved so far in Palm Beach County have been closed without any payment from the insurer, The Palm Beach Post reported.

“A lot of people have deductibles way more than that what their damage is, and a lot of people can’t afford it,” said Chip Merlin, founder of The Merlin Group law firm, which represents policyholders and has offices in Tampa and West Palm Beach.

Florida insurance commissioner David Altmaier told the Senate banking and insurance committee no company appears to be at risk of losing financial solvency after Hurricane Irma.

Still,  a ratings firm has downgraded the outlook to negative for one of the state’s top dozen insurers.

Tower Hill Prime Insurance Co. of Gainesville, which recently had about 145,000 customers according to a state database, retains a financial strength rating of A- (Excellent), but A.M. Best revised its outlook from stable to negative.

“Operating performance is not expected to improve in 2017 as the impact of Hurricane Irma is projected to drive an underwriting loss for the year,” a statement from A.M. Best said Sept. 29.

A Tower Hill statement said storms in 2016 and 2017 have eroded profits after efforts to address non-storm claims such as plumbing leaks, which a number of state insurers maintain are frequently abused by attorneys and contractors who get consumers to sign over insurance benefits.

“A.M. Best recognized Tower Hill Prime’s appropriate capitalization and the company remains financially secure,” Tower Hill Prime said in a statement.

Statewide, about 703,000 Irma claims have been filed for an estimated $4.6 billion in potential payments from insurers.

For a question or complaint about an insurance claim, call the state’s insurance consumer helpline at 1-877-693-5236.

For federal aid with damage not covered by insurance, apply at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362. Or get help in person at a recovery center, such as the Carolyn Sims Center, 225 NW 12th Ave., Boynton Beach.

 

Hurricane Irma: Inspection backlogs grow as $5.3B OKed in claims, aid

Estimated insured losses and federal grants in Florida top $5.3 billion for Hurricane Irma, and the number is likely to grow because inspections have not yet been completed on tens of thousands of Palm Beach County households seeking help with home damage.

Wellington resident Cathy Damico throws a pair of cedar planks off of the roof of her Cherry Lane home on Monday, September 11, 2017, the day after Hurricane Irma affected Palm Beach County in Florida. Damico said the storm caused a tree branch to fall on her roof, opening a hole in her daughter’s bedroom ceiling. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

Multiple storms in a matter of weeks across the southeast, including hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Nate, have stretched thin resources for everything from federal grant inspections to claims adjusting for private insurers.

More than 20,000 insurance claims in the county have yet to be resolved, out of more than 28,000 filed, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

So far, almost as many insurance claims have been closed without payment (3,918) as with payment (4,109) in Palm Beach County.

The estimated value of claims filed so far against private insurers statewide is about $4.6 billion.

Possible reasons for closing claims without payment range from not meeting hurricane deductibles to finding claims invalid or payable by federal flood insurance as opposed to private homeowner policies.

“I had hoped by keeping up on my insurance it wasn’t going to be wiping out my savings,” said Lake Worth resident John Flynn, whose insurer told him he likely won’t meet a hurricane deductible of nearly $6,000.

Federal Emergency Management Agency grants exceed $700 million, with about $46 million approved in Palm Beach County, spokesman John Mills said.

A disaster recovery center in Boynton Beach remains open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and another center is being considered in the western portion of the county, though disaster survivor assistance teams are working in the area, Mills said.

In addition, the Small Business Administration has approved more than $34 million in disaster loans to Florida businesses and residents, including a little under $1 million in Palm Beach County, officials said Monday.The deadline to apply is Nov. 9 for homeowners and renters.

FEMA grants can range from emergency assistance with food, shelter and other  immediate needs to helping cover emergency repairs and uninsured damage at residences.

About 35,000 households have applied for FEMA grants that can include compensation related to home damage in Palm Beach County, with about 6,000 residential inspections completed as of Friday.

How do I get help?

For damage not covered by insurance, apply at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. For more information, check fema.gov or call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362. Or get help in person at a recovery center, such as the Carolyn Sims Center, 225 NW 12th Ave., Boynton Beach.

 

 

After Irma: Citizens expects more than $1 billion in claims

State-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. expects about $1.23 billion in claims from Hurricane Irma, though the number of claims is likely to be lower than once feared, officials said Wednesday.

Chris Gardner (left), chairman of the Citizens board, and president Barry Gilway meet with the Post Editorial Board to discuss issues ahead of the Florida Legislative session in February. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

About 56 percent of more than 45,000 claims filed so far are coming from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, with another 15 percent in Monroe, where Citizens provides 60 percent of the wind coverage.

At one point Citizens projected 125,000 claims from Irma, but now expects about 70,000 over two years, chairman Chris Gardner told board members meeting by telephone.

The company’s capital position remains “strong,”  he said, though “given the magnitude of reported claims, we are sure to encounter unforeseen challenges.”

Citizens, the state’s second largest insurer, expects to be reimbursed $193 million from the state’s hurricane catastrophe fund and pay a net amount of about $1 billion from its surplus, leaving it with a $6.4 billion surplus after claims, Gardner said.

At this time, no private reinsurance has been tapped, a company spokesman said.

Though the company has had trouble arranging enough claims adjusters after previous storms, Gardner described  current staffing as “adequate,” with about 800 adjusters in the field.

 

 

 

 

NEW: Hurricane Irma generates more than 335,000 claims in first week

Hurricane Irma has produced more than 335,000 insurance claims in a week, according to figures state regulators released Monday.

That includes more than 10,000 in Palm Beach County.

Estimated insured losses statewide so far are just under $2 billion.

The numbers will grow. Some residents are only now returning to their homes, and homeowners with damage from Irma have an additional 90 days to submit information on claims under emergency orders from state officials.

State officials emphasize this data is preliminary.

State-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. expects about 125,000 claims from its customers. It has the second-highest number of policies statewide, about 450,000.

 

After Irma: Citizens opens catastrophe response centers

State-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. said  Friday it is opening Catastrophe Response Centers in Florida City, Key Largo and Naples to assist customers recovering from Hurricane Irma.

Company representatives and claims handling specialists are available at the sites from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Citizens announced representatives also are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle claims calls at (866) 411-2742.

After Hurricane Irma: How emergency insurance order affects you

An emergency order from Florida’s insurance commissioner issued Wednesday evening gives consumers special protections after Hurricane Irma, including 90 additional days to file claims and a temporary freeze on rate hikes and cancellations.

“At the direction of Gov. Scott, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier issued an emergency order suspending and activating certain insurance rules and statutes for the health, safety, and welfare of Florida’s policyholders,” a statement from regulators said.

“Among other provisions, the order provides an additional 90 days to policyholders to supply information to their insurance company; prohibits insurance companies from canceling or non-renewing policies covering residential properties damaged by the hurricane for at least 90 days; and freezes any and all efforts to increase rates on policyholders for 90 days,” the statement said.

Among other things, the order says notices of cancellation issued or mailed after Aug. 25 shall with be withdrawn and reissued on or after Oct. 15.

Gov. Scott initiated the process Tuesday with an executive order directing the insurance commissioner to take action.

“As Hurricane Irma leaves our state, it is critical that Floridians have every resource available to quickly recover,”  Scott said then.  “By providing additional protections for consumers, we are making sure that each family has ample opportunity to get their claims filed in a timely manner.”

Earlier in the day Wednesday, the Florida Property & Casualty Association, representing a number of state-based companies, said it was awaiting details of the final order, which “will provide our members with the specificity they need to properly implement the Governor’s directive. ”

The group said it is committed to working with state officials to make consumers aware of “pitfalls” associated with contractors who ask homeowners to sign over control of insurance benefits, which industry officials can lead to abuses and inflated claims.

The Consumer Federation of America warned against using unlicensed or “fly by night” contractors, but also reminded consumers they can seek other professional opinions and quotes if they are not confident adjusters and contractors arranged by the insurance company are offering full and fair payment.

“Not all insurance companies handle claims badly, so go into the claims process with an open mind,” said J. Robert Hunter, CFA’s Director of Insurance and former Administrator of the National Flood Insurance Program and Texas Insurance Commissioner. “Be vigilant, though, and be ready to stand up for yourself and your family, or you run the real risk of being shortchanged.”

 

Hurricane Irma: Damage high, likely below worst projections

Update: AIR lowered its projection for U.S. insured losses from Irma to  a range of $20 billion to $40 billion Monday.

Original post: The main concern now is the life and safety and people in its path, but a catastrophic modeling firm on Saturday projected Hurricane Irma’s insured losses in the U.S. alone could reach $50 billion, making it a contender for the most expensive storm on record.

Much depends on its path as Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, but AIR Worldwide projected that insured losses could range from $20 billion to $65 billion in the U.S. and Caribbean combined.

The estimate was based on the forecast track as of early Saturday, though a lot could change in the next 24 to 48 hours.

 

“As Hurricane Irma moves closer to Florida’s shores, we’re already taking steps and making plans to assist Floridians with post-storm recovery,” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said Saturday. “We’re putting search and rescue assets in place, and readying our insurance experts to hit the ground running to help consumers with their post-storm claims. I urge all Floridians to finish their final preparations and prepare for Irma’s imminent landfall.”

For more Palm Beach Post coverage of the estimated impact, read this story.