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New York State Pushes Banks To Release Over $200 Million In Sandy Aid

A storm-damaged home awaits demolition in the New Dorp area of Staten Island. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A storm-damaged home awaits demolition in the New Dorp area of Staten Island. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that his administration is working with banks to release nearly $208 million in checks already approved for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

As 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported, with thousands of homeowners who have done everything right still waiting for insurance payouts to make repairs, the state launched an investigation to find the source of the holdup.

“And what we found, surprisingly, was that right now, there are more than 6,000 checks sitting in the banks, worth more than $200 million,” said state Financial Services Supt. Benjamin Lawsky.

Lawsky said the banks that hold the mortgages have to verify that the checks are being used for repairs. But he said the banks are just plain taking too long.

“We shouldn’t allow administrative burdens, and just slow reactions by the banks, and slow pace of getting inspectors out to check the work or talk to contractors, to slow this down,” Lawsky said. “It is just too important.”

Anyone who still has not received Sandy aid once the checks are released is asked to contact the Department of Financial Services.

Catherine Hall has waited for her check since November.

“Anyone in this situation will you the same thing: Every day you are fighting,” Hall said Tuesday, the 107th day she, her son and her husband have had to live in a hotel because their house is uninhabitable.

She said her insurance company told her in late November the five-figure check would pay for extensive repairs to the first floor of their Island Park home. What she’s faced since then is the need to complete written requests for inspectors, prior approvals and multi-copies of purchase orders. Meanwhile, she’s tapped out credit cards and bank loans to pay contractors.

Now she makes 40-mile round trips from a Garden City hotel to pick her 4-year-old son up from school every day. She said her friends, who are in the same position, have been wrapping their damaged homes in red tape or hanging red tape as banners to protest the bureaucratic delays.

“It’s not like I’m going to take the money and run,” Hall said. “I’m just going to fix my house and go home.”

Cuomo said that after insurance companies have sent homeowners checks to pay for repairs, the money shouldn’t sit with banks and other lenders because of red tape.

“Servicers need to use maximum discretion to get money into homeowners’ hands as quickly as possible,” he said.

Lawsky said insurance companies and banks, regulated by his office, are working together to speed the process. Some of that is simply applying more workers to the task. Other steps include electronically transmitting payments rather than sending them through the mail.

Four banks alone — Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank and JPMorgan Chase — have 4,000 checks worth $131 million that they and Lawsky are trying to free up faster.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)