Press Release

February 5, 2020

 

GOVERNOR CUOMO ANNOUNCES ADDITIONAL ACTIONS TO SUPPORT PUERTO RICAN COMMUNITIES RECOVERING AFTER RECENT EARTHQUAKES

New Measures Encourage New York Financial Institutions to Invest in Puerto Rican Communities Recovering From Natural Disasters

DFS Issues Guidance Urging Banks to Consider Actions to Help Consumers and Businesses Still Recovering

Actions Build on Governor's Commitment to Helping Puerto Rico Rebuild After Recent Natural Disasters

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a series of additional actions to encourage financial investments in communities in Puerto Rico and to support residents facing financial hardship after recent earthquakes that devastated the Island. These actions follow damage assessment trips to Puerto Rico conducted by Governor Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, and build on the Governor's commitment to helping the Island rebuild after a series of natural disasters.

The New York State Department of Financial Services alerted New York chartered banks that they may receive Community Reinvestment Act consideration for engaging in community development activities that are aimed at revitalizing communities in Puerto Rico hit hardest by the recent natural disasters. DFS issued guidance urging New York financial institutions to provide assistance to consumers and businesses who continue to be affected by the aftermath of the earthquakes, including waiving ATM and late fees, increasing ATM withdrawal limits and helping those struggling to make loan payments. DFS also issued guidance urging all New York insurers that cover people, homes and businesses in Puerto Rico to undertake fair and speedy resolution of claims resulting from the earthquakes. 

"The people of Puerto Rico have been through too much tragedy, are still suffering, and need the help of their fellow Americans," Governor Cuomo said. "New York helps its neighbors in their time of need and we're doing everything in our power to provide critical assistance and resources. These new actions will help ensure that our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico have the support they need not only to recover, but rebuild stronger than ever before."

"We are committed to continuing our efforts to support Puerto Rico and assist in recovery and rebuilding," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "I joined Secretary of State Rossana Rosado in leading a state delegation of mental health professionals and building inspectors this week to assess damage from the earthquakes and provide individuals and families with the care and services they need following the devastation. With these new measures, we remain steadfast in helping to ensure the health and safety of those in Puerto Rico and build back the island better and stronger."

Financial Services Superintendent Linda A. Lacewell said, "The Department urges all New York financial institutions to do whatever they can to support our neighbors as they recover from the recent earthquakes and natural disasters.  Puerto Ricans have experienced exceptional hardship over the past years due to Mother Nature, and these actions by DFS continue the efforts by New York State to step up and lend a hand to the people of Puerto Rico."

In guidance to banks issued today, Financial Services Superintendent Lacewell requested that all reasonable and prudent efforts be undertaken to assist customers affected by the earthquakes, and encouraged the following actions:

  • Waiving ATM fees;
  • Increasing ATM daily cash withdrawal limits;
  • Waiving overdraft fees;
  • Easing restrictions on cashing out-of-state and non-customer checks;
  • Easing credit terms for new loans;
  • Increasing credit card limits for creditworthy customers;
  • Waiving late fees for credit card and other loan balances;
  • Offering payment accommodations, such as allowing loan customers to defer payments or extending the payment due dates, which would avoid delinquencies and negative credit agency reporting caused by disaster-related disruptions;
  • Working collaboratively with money transmitters and other money services businesses to facilitate and expedite transmission of funds and availability of cash to those affected by earthquake; and
  • Proactively reaching out to customers via app announcements, text, email or otherwise to explain the above-listed assistance being offered to customers.

In a letter to insurers issued today, Superintendent Lacewell reminded all carriers covering people, homes and businesses in the areas affected by the earthquakes of the following:

  • Carriers are required to increase their resources to ensure proper treatment of their policyholders;
  • Carriers and their third-party adjusters must promptly assess claims;
  • Affected policyholders are entitled to fair and equitable claim settlement treatment under the New York Insurance Law and Regulations;
  • Carriers must not deny claims caused by multiple perils if each peril is not covered under the applicable policy;
  • The Department expects timely payments of claims that arise out of covered perils;
  • Life insurers are permitted under the Insurance Law and encouraged to accept proof of death in a form other than a death certificate if one cannot be obtained to assist beneficiaries in filing claims;
  • In special circumstances, a New York life insurer may apply to the Department for approval of payments made to its New York licensed agents in excess of the usual regulatory limits for their immediate needs to maintain their practices in Puerto Rico and other areas affected by the earthquakes;
  • Any claims for emergency or other medical treatment should be promptly processed in accordance with all applicable federal and state laws; and
  • Carriers should make every effort to reasonably accommodate affected policyholders who miss or make late premium payments due to hardships caused by these earthquakes.

In addition, Superintendent Lacewell called on insurers to fulfill their obligations as good corporate citizens by assisting policyholders with helpful information regarding emergency aid, tips for damage prevention and resources for remediating damage.

A copy of the insurance circular letter can be found here.

A copy of the guidance to banks can be found here.

A copy of the CRA consideration for participation in NYFRB's Investment Connection Program can be found here.

Since this series of devastating earthquakes began several weeks ago, New York has stood shoulder to shoulder with Puerto Rico and has worked to support the Island's recovery any way it can. On January 14 and 15, Governor Cuomo led a delegation to Puerto Rico to survey damage and promote solidarity, and as a result of initial damage assessments, the Governor deployed engineers and utility experts from the New York Power Authority to address power outages caused by the earthquakes and work to stabilize the island's power system to help mitigate the repeated power outages. During this trip, the State provided hundreds of blankets, pillows and emergency kits to those affected. On February 2, Governor Cuomo deployed 26 bilingual mental health professionals and 25 state building inspectors to Puerto Rico to assist in the recovery efforts as the island continues to recoup from a string of devastating earthquakes, and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul led a delegation to the Island to tour earthquake affected areas.

Prior to the earthquakes, Governor Cuomo continuously directed critical resources to communities in need following Hurricane Maria's landfall in September 2017. In the immediate aftermath, New York established the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort, ultimately distributing at least 4,400 pallets of supplies collected from 13 donation sites across the state. New York State also deployed more than 1,000 personnel, including hundreds of utility workers and power experts, to help with power restoration and grid stabilization.

Under the Governor's leadership, New York State has dedicated approximately $13 million to support the more than 11,000 displaced Hurricane Maria victims living in New York. Part of this funding is being directed to organizations who connect vulnerable Puerto Ricans to needed services such as employment, housing, benefits counseling and health care. Governor Cuomo has also committed up to $11 million dollars in housing and workforce funding for displaced Puerto Ricans: a $1 million program to provide robust case management services to displaced Puerto Ricans, and up to $10 million in job training and placement.

NYPA is presently offering continued consultation on a wide-range of issues relating to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico's grid, focusing specifically on these areas: technical assistance and advocacy, reforming management and operations, and strengthening emergency preparedness. Between the months of November 2017 and April 2018, more than 450 New York State utility personnel, led by NYPA, went to Puerto Rico to help restore power. The New York State utility crews, under NYPA's leadership, consisted primarily of transmission and distribution experts, damage assessors and general support staff, who undertook repairs to transmission lines and other electric infrastructure work focusing its initial power restoration efforts in San Juan. They brought with them hundreds of bucket trucks, diggers, excavators and other specialized equipment to complete the necessary repairs to damaged transmission and distribution lines and worked 16-hour days, seven days-a-week to help restore power. The NYS utility workers then joined with utility workers from around the country—led by the Edison Electric Institute, the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association—to help restore power to other areas of the island

Governor Cuomo and the New York Congressional Delegation continue to advocate for Puerto Rico to receive essential federal assistance. In 2017, Governor Cuomo along with members of the New York Congressional Delegation and with Puerto Rican elected officials issued a Build Back Better Assessment Report. The report identified specific sectors needing investments, including housing, power grid and resiliency, and agriculture, among others.

After the 2018 summer, Governor Cuomo announced the successful completion of the summer-long NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative. Throughout the summer, more than 650 SUNY and CUNY students, as well as skilled labor volunteers, traveled to island communities still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma to provide assistance to those in need. Over the course of five deployments, volunteers logged in nearly 41,000 hours cleaning, restoring, and rebuilding homes. The goal to renovate 150 homes was far exceeded, with a total of 178 homes restored over 10 weeks.

Under the direction of Governor Cuomo, SUNY's and CUNY's respective Board of Trustees passed resolutions in the fall of 2017 authorizing campuses to provide students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands impacted by hurricanes Maria and Irma with the ability to pay tuition at the in-state rate for the 2017-2018 academic year. Both systems renewed the granting of in-state tuition for the 2018-2019 academic year.

For more information about the recovery and relief efforts underway in Puerto Rico please visit the Governor's Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands webpage.

###