Government-sponsored debris removal insurance collection process
As part of Sonoma County accepting the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services’ (CalOES) assistance with debris removal after the 2020 fires, or assistance from the federal government in the 2017 fires, the county is required to:
- Collect and remit applicable homeowner’s insurance proceeds to the applicable government agency to prevent duplication of benefits, and
- 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 and insureds an invoice based on the cost notices received from the applicable government agency with a notice that their insured entered the government-sponsored debris removal program and assigned their coverage benefits to the county.
Based on insurance companies’ responses to the county’s invoice, the county will do the following:
- No response. As part of the county’s reasonable efforts it will follow up with the insurance company and the property owners
- 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 qualifying offsetting expenses for additional debris removal, they may submit a request for reimbursement form and documentation and receipts for the necessary work. 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.
- 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 qualified offsetting expenses for debris removal, he/she should submit a withholding form and supporting documentation, and remaining debris removal insurance proceeds, if any. If the policy does not have a specified amount for debris removal, and if either the rebuild is not complete or a replacement home has not been purchased, property owners may submit an insured statement 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, they may complete a withholding form stating that they will contact the county upon completion of all debris removal work on their property to reconcile any remaining funds that could apply to debris removal costs.
The insured statement, request for reimbursement, and withholding forms 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. In addition, the reimbursement and withholding forms further state that the expenses claimed are covered within the category of insurance that the debris removal payments were made.
The county’s role in this process will be as a “pass through” agency between property owners and the applicable government agency. The county will work with property owners to ensure their paperwork is complete. The county will not play a role in adjusting or settling debris insurance claims. Property owners who need assistance in negotiating with his/her insurance company may contact United Policyholders, California 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.
The county will track all correspondence, documentation and receipts and provide that information to either CalOES or FEMA, as required, as well as any debris removal insurance money collected.
Insurance Collection Process (flow charts and text)
These flow charts illustrate insurance policies with specified and unspecified amounts of debris removal coverage and different sample scenarios.