Representative upset over TWIA's slow payouts, unlicensed consultants

Rep. Todd Hunter says TWIA needs 'new makeup'

By Mario Diaz - Reporter

PORT ARANSAS, Texas - "Hurricane season is coming and I'm not back together."

That's the reality for people living in Port Aransas and Rockport nearly eight months after Hurricane Harvey.

The storm's wrath is still being discussed and remains quite visible. The blue tarps coloring the landscape symbolize families not yet back to normal. Some are hoping for divine intervention, but the reality for many is they still cannot get answers from the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, or TWIA.

Meredith Castor, from Port Aransas, summed up her struggles to Channel 2 Investigates by asking, "Where are they?"

TWIA is a primary insurance provider along the Texas coast, with more than 227,000 policies and nearly $5 billion in funds. Hurricane victims who paid on their TWIA policy for years said they are now being shortchanged.

"I have been given $65,000 now, but I am at a halfway point," said Cherith Fenton during a recent interview.

Tired of being lowballed by TWIA, Fenton decided to advertise her frustration with a large sign on her property.

"Harvey knocked us down, but TWIA keeps us down," Fenton said.

In the weeks after Harvey, Channel 2 Investigates began examining a growing chorus of complaints about issues families were having with TWIA's adjusters.

"We've been through several desk adjusters. Then we find out someone quit or got fired, and we have to go through it all over again," Castor said.

A TWIA workshop in Rockport put the struggles of many on full display.

Danile Drake said his daily routine for months consists of "just fighting TWIA, just like everybody else."

His meeting with a TWIA representative was revealing. Frustrated because there is a tree sitting on his garage and the lack of payment, Drake, at one point, asked the TWIA representative, "Would you be upset if you were me?" The representative said, "I would."

Drake, now on his sixth adjuster, is hoping for accountability.

"I would like to see TWIA audited," Drake told Channel 2 Investigates.

According to Jennifer Armstrong, TWIA's vice president of communications and legislative affairs, "We want to pay every cent that we owe."

When Channel 2 Investigates informed Armstrong that a lot of people say the company has only paid them 40 percent, Armstrong replied, "And we are here to help. We are here to resolve those problems."

TWIA uses field experts, including consultants, to determine how much to pay on each claim, but Channel 2 Investigates discovered that TWIA is also relying on unlicensed consultants to help determine payouts.

"We have building consultants who are not engineers, not licensed by the board. They have contracting experience, construction experience and they are determining how much the repairs are," State Rep. Todd Hunter said.

Hunter, a former TWIA lobbyist, was stunned.

"That needs to be checked into," Hunter said.

Hunter admits he did not know, but added, "The public needs to know. Everybody needs to know."

He also said he is going to take a look at TWIA. Hunter believes the company deserves scrutiny.

When asked by Channel 2 Investigates if TWIA has enough money to pay people, Hunter said, "That is one of the questions I want to ask."

The state representative also expressed his desire for change at TWIA, saying he wants to focus on policy and personnel. In his opinion, the TWIA board needs transformation.

"It seems to me we need to take a look at a new makeup," Hunter said.

Hunter said he is in the process of creating a Coastal Windstorm Task Force that will focus on windstorm issues, insurance and TWIA.

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