"A lot of Adjusters come in from out of state. They're supposed to be trained, but they often don't. So it often falls to the property owner to stand up for themselves." - Amy Bach
SERIES: Role of the Non-Profit
One of the urgent issues in recovery is insufficient insurance. It is often dismissed by many because of varied reasons. Whereas, for the ones that do have insurance, the process is plain complex and lengthy. But with the trends in disasters today, having insurance is truly a lifesaver. Join United Policyholders Founder Amy Bach, Esq., for Part 2 of How to Navigate Insurance in times of disaster. Jennifer and Amy talk about the coverage of insurance policy, the role of advocacy, laws, and opportunities in insurance, as well as money and equity issues. If you are a nonprofit, Amy gives profound advice on how to secure fundings so you can put the victims at the core of your programs. While claiming your insurance, you may meet unscrupulous people trying to swindle you and untrained insurance adjusters evaluating your properties poorly. Listen in for practical guides on how to avoid insurance fraud. Be proactive and take the responsibility to stand up for your own recovery.
- 04:00: Growing Problem-Lack of Insurance
- 10:54: The Coverage of Insurance Policy
- 16:38: The Roadmap to Recovery
- 26:14: Forward with Long-Term Solutions
- 35:36: Help the Community Help Themselves
- 38:12: Find Trusted Help
04:06: "We've had a lot of experience in California with wildfires and the same problems crop up for people after every single one- People don't have enough insurance." -Amy Bach
07:31: "A lot of Adjusters come in from out of state. They're supposed to be trained, but they often don't. So it often falls to the property owner to stand up for themselves." -Amy Bach
08:10: "Be proactive. You don't have to be combative, but see it as what it is. It's a business transaction." -Amy Bach
08:39: "Insurance is the fastest money. But for the majority of people, insurance is their recovery financing source." -Amy Bach
10:02: "We're not saying that one disaster is worse than the other. We're saying that they're different, and they require different advocacy." -Jennifer Thompson
12:19: "Each fire survivor community, if they're organized and if they're big enough, they get something good done." -Amy Bach
22:11: "It costs money to put a house back, and it is awful to lose a home. Those are two realities that you cannot change." -Amy Bach
22:36: "People are always surprised by how much room there is for improvement. There is an opportunity to do better, there is an opportunity for emergent leadership, and sometimes it just needs some fostering." -Jennifer Thompson
31:16: "Money is always competing with the issue of equity. As partners, they should not be competing. They should make homes more resilient." -Jennifer Thompson
34:48: "Disasters are a great leveler." -Amy Bach
37:33: "No one wants to become an expert in insurance, but no one wants to lose their home either. Many people find they do need to get schooled on their insurance situation." -Amy Bach
37:50: "Half the struggle of recovering from a disaster is insurance. Insurance isn't sexy until you really need it." -Jennifer Thompson
Amy Bach, a nationally recognized expert on insurance loss and recovery, has been a professional advocate for insurance policyholders since 1984 and an attorney since 1989. While practicing insurance regulatory law and representing clients in litigation matters, she co-founded United Policyholders in 1991. Bach migrated from the private practice of law in 2005 to become the organization's full-time Executive Director and primary spokesperson; shaping and overseeing the Roadmap to Recovery™, Roadmap to Preparedness, and Advocacy and Action programs. She is frequently interviewed in print and broadcast media, and the author of numerous legal and consumer publications including "The Disaster Recovery Handbook," "WISE UP: The Savvy Consumer's Guide to Buying Insurance," and tips and guides in the "UP Claim Help Library". Recognized by Money Magazine as a Money Hero, Bach has served as a public policy advisor to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners since 2009 and is in her second term as an appointed member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance. She also currently serves on the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Disaster Preparedness and Response.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Welcome to part two of the How To Disaster Podcast featuring Amy Bach, executive director and founder of United Policyholders. In case you missed part one, United Policyholders was created about 30 years ago in 1991, and it was in response to the Oakland Hills Fire. At that time, Amy and her partner knew that there needed to be a place for those people who were insured to have some sort of role of advocacy and navigation is a very, very tricky, complicated process.
Amy is an attorney by trade, and it came from the insurance industry so it was a natural, sort of melding of two very talented people. I wanted to have Amy on, because like our organization, she's there for the long term. We can turn around in a community by 18 months post disaster, and most organizations have sort of done what they can and then gone back to their regular missions. It's rare to have an organization so singularly focused and dedicated to the space of helping rebuilders actually get all the way home. I really respect Amy, and I really love her organization that we don't touch insurance in our organization, and we go into new fire, newly disaster affected communities. Our first recommendation is always that they reach out to United Policyholders. We have a lot of faith in their ethics, their tenacity, and in their ability to get it done. Not only do they serve people who are insured, help them navigate contents, navigate dwelling, navigate debris removal, but they also can work with buyer survivors to ensure that state laws are improved, or so that the insurance company responds to some of the unique issues that come up when you do face a massive disaster. In our case, that's wildfire. But in other cases, she does work in wind and rain. So the problems are often similar, but can also be different.
Amy and her team have a pretty solid understanding of what that means, that's why we have two of these episodes. In the first episode, we really talked about how they got started and some of the work that they do. In Episode Two, now we're going to talk about, what's on the horizon for disaster? What are some of the laws? What are some of the opportunities? Why is it so important to collaborate? And what are the difficulties of getting funding when you're a long term disaster nonprofit? So thank you again for joining us on How To Disaster, and here's part two. Amy, I'd love for you to talk to us about how the client or the policyholders journey? What was it like in 2017 when we had our massive wildfires here? How did you sort of lead the charge with the survivors' audit to make those insurance laws better, but also to highlight where it was going right and wrong, right down to how contents in rental reimbursements, and what is like for like, just those sorts of things. Because for some people who are listening to this who have never gone through a disaster, or they're trying to help people, but they don't understand this area of insurance and how it works. So I'd love for them to hear from you.
"We've had a lot of experience in California with wildfires and the same problems crop up for people after every single one- People don't have enough insurance." -Amy Bach
Amy Bach: Sure. So there's nothing like experience. Experience is the best teacher. We've had a lot of experience in California with wildfires, and the same problems crop up for people after every single one. People don't have enough insurance. Our surveys indicate consistently two thirds of the people don't have enough insurance. And those problems usually surface pretty early. I can remember the local Assistance Center opening, being at the ground floor of the Press Democrat, and we had our table and we had our volunteers, people who've been there, done that from private prior fires and can really give that kind of unique empathy that people need when they're so raw in the early days.
And from the very beginning at our table, people knew or suspected that they didn't have enough insurance pretty early, a lot of people. So that issue is a constant. So we were giving people strategies for that because we've been dealing with that for so long from the get go. The other thing that happened very early and happened there, you had debris removal, people had to get their lots cleared. And in California, it has become the norm. And this was not the case after the Oakland Fire. There was no coordinated debris removal in 1991. But since that time, there's been a big leap forward in efficiency of getting lots cleared and figuring out who's going to pay for it. So that has been a good kind of, there's been some improvement for the homeowner. It's not perfect.
Some people participated in the group, government coordinated to remove, have some gripes about it. But generally, we're getting lots cleared faster, generally, when we do it coordinated. But then the problems that surface in addition early on, insurance claims work, that you get all these adjusters that come in from out of state, insurance companies will say, look, we don't normally have 6,000 claims come in one area at one time, so we don't have enough local adjusters to meet that demand. So we got to bring people in from out of state. So they bring people in from out of state. Well, California has consumer protections that no other state has. We have worked very hard. And thank you for acknowledging that United Policyholders and our disaster survivor volunteers have been, we've made many trips to Sacramento over the years to try to get laws passed that would ease the path, because insurance companies did not want to voluntarily handle disaster claims differently than they handle a one off house fire. They continue to adjust those claims the same way. So the legislature has had to kind of say NO with disaster claims for various reasons. You gotta be faster, you have to let the money into people's hands faster, you have to put less obstacles in front of them. And by the way, everything's gone.
"A lot of Adjusters come in from out of state. They're supposed to be trained, but they often don't. So it often falls to the property owner to stand up for themselves." -Amy Bach
"Be proactive. You don't have to be combative, but see it as what it is. It's a business transaction." -Amy Bach
So this whole idea of making people itemize every salt and pepper shaker and every bottle of aspirin in their medicine cabinet is ridiculous. So we have really worked hard to try to reduce the hoops that disaster victims have to jump through to get their insurance claims paid. But because a lot of adjusters come in from out of state, they don't know the rules they're supposed to. They're supposed to be trained, but they often don't. So it often falls to the property owner to stand up for themselves and say, no, actually, I'm entitled to in advance cash advance in California. I don't have to itemize everything that detailed, I can bulk list things. Sometimes, the homeowner has to school their insurance adjuster and people in some ways. Really, in California, I think particularly wildfire survivors have learned and a lot of it, I think, is through our roadmap to recovery program, how to be proactive, and the fact that if you are proactive. And that doesn't mean you have to be a jerk, and you don't have to be combative, and you don't have to come in with your dukes up ready to punch out the adjuster, but seeing it as what it is. It's a business transaction. It's not what you saw on TV with all these--
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Not warm and fuzzy.
"Insurance is the fastest money. But for the majority of people, insurance is their recovery financing source." -Amy Bach
Amy Bach: Fuzzy. It's your assets, right? You have the biggest stake in making sure that they get restored properly. Insurance is the fastest money. Yes, you can apply for an SBA loan. Yes, you can apply for a FEMA individual assistance grant. Yes, if you're in a very low income habitat, or the Mennonites may help build you a new home. But for the majority of people, insurance is their recovery, financing source. And we are here to maximize that financing source.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, you guys worked so hard after 2017 to make it, not even knowing what was coming down the pipe in Paradise to make it so that they actually had an easier time to navigate insurance just a year later. Yeah, everything that has come after has benefited from your work with the wildfires survivors, your work in Sacramento. I like it because, we think about the individual who has just undergone this traumatic experience, just like you, and we know that because you did that, that it's going to remove some of that trauma. Each of those hoops represents a different level of trauma for them, and they're already trying to put their lives together, do their work, their jobs, raise their children, figure out where they're going to live. And every time they turn around, like that thing that they had isn't there anymore. And like a wild wind and rain is not the same as wildfire, it's all gone. It's three inches of oily chemical ash.
"We're not saying that one disaster is worse than the other. We're saying that they're different, and they require different advocacy." -Jennifer Thompson
We're not saying that one disaster is worse than the other, we're just saying that they're different, and they require different advocacy. I know that it's made a huge difference. And I like to remind people, sometimes in new disasters, I'm like, oh, thank goodness that this work was done by the fire survivors United Policyholders before because we really, this will make it easier for you. And if you can know what isn't working this time, then maybe there's another opportunity to pay that lesson forward for a future fire survivor. So it just has, credit has to be given exactly where it's due. Can you talk about contents versus house insurance? Because I did not know anything about this before our wildfires, and I was, many people, because they're under insured, they have to use their contents to rebuild their home. Talk about that.
Amy Bach: Yeah. Two kinds of main buckets of coverage in an insurance policy are for your dwelling and then for your stuff. Your contents, which sometimes they call personal property. We talked about, if you were to turn the house upside down, everything that would fall out, that's your contents, that's your personal property. So those two parts of your claim are typically handled separately. So the adjuster will be, the insurance company will be sort of simultaneously figuring out how much they owe you for your dwelling and how much they owe you for your contents. Again, depending on the adjuster, depending on the insurance company, they're going to require a certain level of proof of the value of what you lost.
"Each fire survivor community, if they're organized and if they're big enough, they get something good done." -Amy Bach
Now, with content, a lot of people will say and believe me, we've made this argument in Sacramento, we've made it to insurance companies, we help people make this argument on their own. Look, I paid for a certain amount of content coverage. Let's say I have $200,000 worth of content coverage. Everything I have is gone. Why aren't you cutting me a check for 200,000? Didn't I pay for that amount of coverage and everything's gone? So far, insurers have been standing very firm at like, no, we're not going to do it that way. They have lots of reasons, but we have been chipping away at that over the years, chipping away. Each fire survivor community, if they're organized, if they're big enough, they get something good done.
So like your community, I mean, 2017 did great work. It's just kind of like the Oakland community. A lot of people just rolled up their sleeves. You had Coffee Strong from the block captains. Very similar to what happened in Oakland, they started their own newspaper, The Phoenix Journal, and they started an association. The Phoenix Association in the community really was loud. They get loud, and getting loud gets results often. Like the contents, we had started getting insurance companies voluntarily to waive to say, okay, you don't have to do that list. It started with, okay, well, we asked, we said, okay, you don't want to just cut them a check for 200,000. Okay, how else could we make people's lives easier? How about instead of listing every title of every book on my shelf, could I just say I had 100 hardcover books and 200 softcover books. No, maybe, okay, that would be an easier kind of thing. But then we got, we brought in the Department of Insurance, and they have been a great partner over the years on and off. They really helped us with what they call their bully pulpit. The Department of Insurance couldn't force insurance companies to waive that itemization requirement because it's baked into the policy, it's in the contract that you are obligated to list everything. They couldn't say, well, no, we're not going to let you enforce that. But they could cajole, embarrass, maybe not embarrassed, but maybe--
Jennifer Gray Thompson: But I loved that our local regional newspaper, which has I don't know that a million people read it, as they named it.
Amy Bach: And I honestly think the Press Democrat, in and of itself, is one reason that your community had a more successful recovery than some other communities have had. Because you had this additional pressure being put on the insurance companies to do better. So the insurance commissioner is putting pressure, the local media is putting pressure, the survivors are putting pressure, my organization is putting pressure, our partners, you're putting pressure, and together that can kind of move insurance company decision makers in a better direction. They're business people, they're going to make the decisions that are good for their business. Then if they perceive that relaxing, the inventory itemization requirement or waiving it is going to give them good publicity. They're gonna do it, and they did do it.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Sorry, I think what I worry about, as our wildfires are so much more widespread across the American West, is we're changing our charter right now into 11 states. We worry a lot about those small rural communities, those who don't have access to the big newspaper that wins the Pulitzer Prize. Those small rural communities are not well resourced, cannot afford even an emergency manager. Which in one case, there's a county in Oregon, they just had to let go of a county employee because FEMA is requiring that they have an emergency manager, but FEMA didn't fund it. So we very gently said to FEMA, we are seeing that it's just not the right thing to do, especially in this era of mega fires. But that's one of the things that is on our concern, our list of concerns.
Amy Bach: Well, I think it's great that you are working to be an interface between federal agencies and local localities, very important. The role that FEMA plays is pretty important.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: We love FEMA. I should also make it very clear that, like in case anybody missed the very beginning, you're a nonprofit, right? We're a nonprofit. So just that kind of how critical that focus, or even doing things, it's like your online, your toolkits, the things that you have tools online that anybody can use in any community to really be an advocate for themselves. So I'd love for you to talk about that because it's not a not an easy thing to do, and it's a trusted source, if someone's listening.
Amy Bach: So clearly, we do have three programs, and the roadmap to recovery is kind of the meat and potatoes. That's where we go in after there's been a disaster. And we've been doing that for 30 years. We've done wildfires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and we provide a series of education and support offerings for the impacted households. But we also do end up doing quite a bit of interfacing with the local government. And sometimes, other NGO partners. We do FEMA, but it's never identical. Jennifer, I think you're trying to bring more consistency, which is great to the post wildfire situation. And I think that's so important.
Because like I said, we do get better each time. You guys, we had Atlas and Tubbs in 2017 in Sonoma and Napa. And then we had Kincade in 2019. We are getting better. Meaning, the helpers, the angels, the people that try to go in and be helpful, and not for money, we're not there to sell, and that makes us very unique. I think that over the years, we've seen, like we talked about entrepreneurial activities, and they've generally been for profit entities. People that want to make a buck. And that's, hey, America is a capitalist land. And that's fine. Except that from our perspective, the disaster victims, because they're so vulnerable, they need extra protection. It's so hard when you're so overwhelmed, sleep deprived and traumatized. It's hard to decipher a legit sales pitch from a scam, it's hard. And because we don't want people to make rookie mistakes, we want to be there to say, if somebody is making you an offer that sounds too good to be true, it is not true.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: It can even come from like a company who thinks, oh, they need more people to build and I have this lower cost of labor so I'm going to rush in and say, I'm going to bring all of my own laborers, I'm going to rebuild your house at 250 per square foot when everybody else is 450. And what we tell communities is the cost of rebuilding is the cost of rebuilding. And if someone is under like, oh, it's gonna be a deal. It's totally not a deal. They may have core intentions, or they may not even understand that the minute they put their workforce on the ground, they will be poached in a place that has a lack of skilled trades people. They're going to be paid $35 an hour to sweep instead of whatever else. The other thing is, sometimes, it's ill intentioned. And oftentimes, it's good intentions, but no actual experience. And then you come in, and then you help them. Especially that first, we call ourselves like third responders. Do you know like, we're here to be like, we'll be here in a year. We'll be here in two years, which is one of the reasons why we always run into each other in space.
And one of the reasons I know that you're still trusted, anyway, same approach. But the three types of people who show up post disaster are those who want to sell you something, those who want to defraud you and those who actually want to help. And then we even had another situation where a guy, like, went to multiple communities and he's like, I will rebuild 100 of your homes for free. And he really was like, that's when you watch out for the heroes because he was like an adrenaline junkie for that. And then he would vastly under deliver, I think he'd finished like 10 homes and like, county isn't a bad intention, but he wasn't putting the survivor to be at the center of your programs.
"It costs money to put a house back, and it is awful to lose a home. Those are two realities that you cannot change." -Amy Bach
Amy Bach: Well, that expression ain't no free, it's real. People don't do things for free on a large scale. Yes, Habitat for Humanity can build some homes for free. The Mennonites can build some homes for free, but we're talking about like 10, hundreds. So anyway, I think what United Policyholders has been doing, what United Policyholders has been doing for all these years is finding trusted partners, and finding the professionals that are not bringing a big load of BS and making empty promises, but actually know what they're talking about. And they can give a little bit for free, like our lawyers, we have really smart insurance lawyers. They can give a little bit of time for free, but they don't over promise because they know that they got to pay their bills. So hey, there's that. And then there's, of course, the homegrown wisdom of people who've been there and done that, of survivors saying, well, I did this or I fell in that pothole, and then I got myself out. So we bring a lot of that. We combine that sort of organic, been there, done that. Not a professional, but I can speak from legit experience of what happened to me, what happened to my neighbors and what worked for us. And then those professionals that can give some time for free, which is really valuable. Ultimately, it costs money to put a house back, and it really is awful to lose a home. But those are two realities that you cannot change.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: One of the reasons why though I want to facilitate even more contact between United Policyholders and Fannie Mae, in particular, because you're like two sides of the same goal, because they underwrite 25 to 30% of the mortgages in this country. We've found them to be very valuable. We had dinner with them before COVID, you and I, and they've been our probably most valuable partners because we like to save money. They ask us for information like, how does this actually play out on the ground.
Amy Bach: Yeah.
"People are always surprised by how much room there is for improvement. There is an opportunity to do better, there is an opportunity for emergent leadership, and sometimes it just needs some fostering." -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: We help communities navigate disasters, but we do it only in partnership. Because if there's any magic wand, that would be collaborative partnerships together. The magic wand is, everybody jumped into the car because we're gonna do this. And we're going to lock the doors because we're doing this together. Leave your silos, embrace your strange bedfellows and learning mindset. This is why we run into each other in Santa Cruz. I think what happens in a disaster before you've had one is you think, oh, the cavalry comes in. And it's all said and done. And there's like a protocol, and that's how the tool is gonna work. And that's just never ever the case. People are always surprised by how much room there is for improvement. There's also opportunity to do better, there's opportunity for emergent leadership. And sometimes, it just needs some fostering, which was why it was so great that, like Valerie Brown from United Policyholders was helping Santa Cruz step up their long term recovery group. They're just some practical supportive things that are outside of insurance, but a need that you've been filling.
Amy Bach: Yeah. Insurance is only part of the spectrum. The roadmap to recovery includes personal finance decision making. So we have all these CPA's and certified financial planners that are our partners. We're building these partnerships because we're looking for those CPA's that are kind of like our lawyer volunteers. I'm not gonna ask a CPA to do a thousand free tax returns for disaster survivors, that's not realistic, and they're not going to do a good job anyway. But maybe one or two, or maybe they can teach and they can give guidance, and then they can train other CPA's on like, what are the special rules for casualty losses? So we're doing that, and the piece that I think really I'm looking forward to doing more of with you, it relates to the insurance gaps, financing, and the whole like, how do you avoid getting into a hole where you hire a builder? Again, as wonderful as my organization is, even though we've been around for 30 years, you go into a community, they've never heard of us.
So the reason that we promote the roadmap recovery brand is because we do go beyond just insurance. We are looking at that holistic long term recovery. And the reason that we help stand up a long term recovery group or why we use grant funds to have somebody on our team participate in a long term recovery group is because insurance kind of touches on all these other things. And it's all kind of related. Insurance and rehousing is what it really is. That's the goal it is.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And it's so much depends upon helping a community to organize themselves, because you aren't trying to leave their recovery, we're not trying to leave their recovery, you're saying that you don't have to reinvent recovery. And that is the most, that there is hope, and we'll show you that we've gotten through this, you don't have to reinvent it, here's some things that you can use. But also, here's a service that we can provide.
Amy Bach: Absolutely. Jennifer, leveraging philanthropic dollars is critical.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: One of the great challenges in disaster has been, the focus of philanthropy has not been traditionally on disaster. There's an immediate rush of funds that come in when you have significant disasters, that they make the news and people have an attachment to that place. Poor communities, poor counties, you're not going to find Anderson Cooper on the street corner like you did in Sonoma County. They may be like a blip in the news. It may last maybe a week cycle if you're really lucky, there's nothing else crazy going on. So philanthropy has tended to be immediate, and then very short term. And then for the long term, there is virtually nothing. I do have to credit that, some of the national organizations like Ford Family Foundation, they understand that they need to pivot. Same with Hewlett into looking at wildfire resiliency, but how to even fund organizations that are there a year or two years later when wildfires survivors and communities really need that. They need it when the hope starts to feel forced. They need that. So can you talk about your experience? The funding issue is just always such a puzzle.
Amy Bach: Well, it's been brutal, to be honest with you because it's getting better, and in a weird way because of climate change. I think that a lot of money, for example, if it's an area where there's people who are connected with celebrities, or it's big enough that it really hit enough people that somebody knows somebody who knows somebody, you could have like what you had in a big concert, there was the concert in the city that raised a lot of money. Similarly after Superstorm Sandy, there was a big concert, and that's wonderful. Sometimes, somebody who's a high profile celebrity who donates money and kind of inspires other people. But it is true that we've worked a lot of smaller disasters where there just wasn't that much charitable money.
Of course, from our perspective, because we are such worker bees, United Policyholders, we are always going to do the work and then figure out how to get paid, how to keep our doors open. Second, it's been an evolution for me because I was an advocate first, and then sort of a nonprofit businesswoman and a disaster expert. Second, that it's been kind of a lifelong struggle, to be honest with you, Jennifer. Because, if somebody says to me, we're working with a lawmaker in Oregon now who's trying to get a law, that would ease the path for the next generation. If she asks us, can you help out on this? Well, we don't really have funding for that, but we're gonna say, yes because what else we have to. My point is just that the Center for disaster philanthropy is trying to be that aggregator. Because what has happened is it's been very erratic in terms of whether there's philanthropic dollars flowing in. So I think the philanthropic community is focusing your mortgage grantmakers are very aware--
Jennifer Gray Thompson: They have Alan Kwok. He is a leader in that space, and he totally sees what has to happen.
Amy Bach: But you know Jennifer, I'm very interested to know what your thoughts are about this. So the trend in a lot of times when we would apply for a grant and we would get turned down, because I think the funder would think, well, they're helping to have some, they're helping the people who have insurance, we've gotten to have that, we have to help to have nones. And for me, I'm kind of like, well, let's look at this two ways. For one thing, we shouldn't be punishing the people that did buy insurance, and they shouldn't be in a worse position. But the people who didn't buy insurance, and in a lot of situations, they couldn't. But sometimes, people just make that decision that they don't want to, whatever. So there's that. But it's also that we don't want people to think, well, I don't need to worry about paying for insurance because the government's going to come through, and I'm going to get free money. That's not helpful. The government cannot do that, FEMA cannot do that. I guess it is kind of what do you think about it. I have seen a trend of philanthropic dollars going to direct cash grants to people who didn't have insurance instead of going to an organization like ours. So any thoughts about that?
"Money is always competing with the issue of equity. As partners, they should not be competing. They should make homes more resilient." -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yeah. I've two thoughts about it, I have three thoughts, or 17. One of them is that we do not believe in, we believe that our constituency, our wildfire survivors, period. And of course, we believe in equity. But if you keep burning down, equity just gets exacerbated every time. One other issue is like, only now are received, money is always competing with the issue of equity. So I see those as partners, they should not be competing. You should make homes more resilient, and you should help to make that happen. I'm glad that the trend is towards there. As far as the cash grants that come in, if you get like all of Oregon for their worst wildfire season last year, got $6 million to their Oregon Community Foundation, that was pretty much the sum total of all their donations. In contrast, we got 80 to $100 million in this area. Right. I think that we were lucky that we had Christy Mitchell who was hired by the turning point to distribute like $40 million. They did it over a period of three years. I know Northern California grantmakers were a big advisor during that time.
But a lot of that, but for most wildfires survivors, you ask them, they're like, where did the money go? Because they maybe got a check for $1,000. And we should have people who would call us crying over it because they were like, I was like, we don't have it. I know that you think that we got $32 million, but that was all distributed through a totally different fund that just happened to have one person in common at home. Most of it went into capacity building, which is needed in the nonprofit sector. And some of it, quite frankly, is still sitting in another organization. And they've made it very clear, they have zero interest in helping a fire survivor. They've been like, we're going to do something very different with this money. So I think that there's donor intent. I think when people are sitting on their couch and watching other people suffer, they want to alleviate that suffering. And then local organizations figure out how do we deploy those funds in a way that has like 30% capacity building for the long term, and then maybe 30% directly to wildfire victims. And then also like, what's the role of the block grants to replace that housing. We see that there needs to be some reform and re-examination at all levels. I applaud that you have people like Alan Kwok or the Center for Disaster philanthropy who were like, actually, you do need to think about the long term.
You and I were once on a panel where I said, I think I run the least sexy nonprofit ever. And then you came right after me and you're like, I think actually, I do. I find it a point of pride, though, that we are. I don't have the commercial that's going to, I do have a movie about a fence that makes people cry. And it's honest, and that's fine. But for the most part, this is not sexy work. This is just necessary, and it's a slog, and it's long term. I have so many thoughts about it. I do not agree with the idea that because you are well resourced, you don't deserve compassion, information and resources. I do think for sure that we need to look at, like in the Alameda Fire in Oregon, why were those people uninsured? I went to a mobile home park, and 93 out of 100 units were completely uninsured. And they were uninsured because for a variety of reasons, mostly poverty. So I want those people, but I also like this idea that you don't attend to the entire community. Trauma is something that I just don't agree with, so I don't know if that answers your question.
"Disasters are a great leveler." -Amy Bach
Amy Bach: I do think that disasters are the great leveler. Meaning, it's traumatizing to lose your house if you're wealthier before. And a lot of people weren't in a great situation before the law. And of course, you want to help them. Like I said, I think we're getting better. I think the philanthropic sector is getting better at doing both at helping with the short term and recognizing the long term. So that's why we have optimism, we're working in four states right now simultaneously, which is a very interesting place to be. But it's scary right now. They're talking about, this gonna be the worst hurricane season ever. And they're predicting that, you know what's going on in California, we've got these extraordinary drought declared counties.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Anyone's listening, this is why we know that we have to have more trusted partnerships. Where we're like a suite, 360 view, because we are there to help the entire community. We just want to help the community help themselves. In the case of Santa Cruz where we also both are, that's really four different recoveries in one lightning complex fire because they have all these different needs. I was meeting with some people from a very well resourced community and they were like, we don't need to organize. I was like, really? Supervisor does everything we want. I was like, oh, but I figured out that their love language was talking about contractors and insurance, and that they needed to share information. So they have to be just like, we're asking our wildfire survivors, or whatever the disaster is, to band together so that their voices more louder and more effective. We think that there's an opportunity for long term organizations like ours to amplify the message that it's a shit show out there right now. And it's really tough for a lot of people. We want to just make, I like to say that we're in the business of mitigating pain. And there is a need, and that also means that the more money that gets put towards the issue, that the more opportunity there is for fraud. And this is why, it's never been more important to cast a safety net in that sense around communities to come and amplify it.
"No one wants to become an expert in insurance, but no one wants to lose their home either. Many people find they do need to get schooled on their insurance situation." -Amy Bach
Amy Bach: 100%. We've seen some excellent best practices coming out of your region in terms of county city to coordinate collaboration, coordinate debris removal, problem solving federal, state, local. We've seen the Block Captain approach. Now, a lot of people are transitioning into preparedness advocacy. And the bottom line is, look, no one wants to become an expert in insurance, but no one wants to lose their home either. So if you lose your home, many people find they really do need to get schooled on their insurance situation. And that's what we're here for.
"Half the struggle of recovering from a disaster is insurance. Insurance isn't sexy until you really need it." -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: That's like half the struggle of recovering from a disaster is insurance. So insurance isn't sexy until you really need it. But then you are, the sexiest at that point, you're going through that terrible moment to go all the way home, you're gonna walk them home, and that's I have a lot of respect for you.
Amy Bach: Well, I appreciate that, Jennifer. We always say, we hope that you never need us. But if you ever do, you'll be glad that we exist. So spread the word about us. You're an angel for helping spread the word about us. I'm very interested to see where you take your work, because clearly, people need experienced disaster recovery advisors that are there, that are on the level that are really they not to sell a product, or a service, or get a contract, but to say, here is the best information we have distilled from the past on what's worked and what hasn't, and how your company can leverage all the public dollars that are available for infrastructure. And then how to avoid some of the problems we've seen, other companies have, but at the end of the day, it's gonna be a struggle. You just can't get around, and then you just look at a place like Paradise. I know that there's a lot of frustration and concern, Why is it taking so long? Why are there numbers so low? And it's just complicated. There's really not any other way, you just have to slog through, work through and find the good people like us that are there for the right reasons.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And you have to if you want to avoid fraud and gross inequities in disaster, then fund nonprofits that are trusted.
Amy Bach: Yep.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And it will actually help that like, we sometimes ask people like, oh, well, what are you going to send us a bill? Or what do you want? And I'm like, actually, we're not. We were fortunate that we started with $2 million from PG&E. And that's the only reason why I can still sit here. Two years later, we've raised about 1.8 million other than that, and then we just got. And for fuel mitigation, another five 6.4 million, whatever. But unless that had happened, we wouldn't have had the space to learn, grow, or the ability to figure out how to serve other communities. If somebody cares about this issue, I'm not even making, like go to United Policyholders and donate to them, or put them on your priority list because, I mean, do your work. We want you to be everywhere, as we do everything. I'm just very interested in, I would like to hold hands with you walking into the community, quite frankly.
Amy Bach: Well, I really appreciate that, because it does take a village. We don't look forward to there being more disasters, but we know they're coming. So it's great to have another partner that knows the lay of the land, and it isn't their first rodeo, and they're not making things up on the fly. So thank you. Thanks so much for having me on. It's been a pleasure.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Thank you so much, Amy. This has been Amy Bach with United Policyholders. You can find their information in the slide and below. And thank you so much for being on the podcast, How To Disaster.
Amy Bach: Thank you, Jennifer.