Tornado, shutdown a double whammy for some N. Mpls. residents

Damaged home
Asatta Brown's north Minneapolis home needs more than $100,000 in work that has yet to be done.
MPR Photo/Carolina Astrain

For many residents in north Minneapolis, the loss of state services comes on top of weeks of hardship as the neighborhood struggles to recover from the May 22nd tornado.

North Minneapolis homeowner Assata Brown is on MinnesotaCare, the state-run health insurance program. Her eyes are a little red, and right now she's between bouts of coughing.

"I need to deal with my allergies," she said. "I've usually been able to keep them under control so I don't have an allergy doctor."

Brown can't see a new service provider as long as the state government is shut down. Brown's allergies wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the condition of her home of 17 years.

"All of my ceilings are actually damaged," she said. "Fortunately we got plastic on the floor so the floor hasn't been damaged ... I think. There may be mold or mildew underneath them that we may not be able to see."

THE INSURANCE GAME

Brown had a good home insurance agent and she was fully insured. She called the company the afternoon after the tornado and they told her to do things like take pictures of everything so she'd have evidence of what she lost. They put her up in a hotel and sent an adjuster out quickly.

But there were still lots of things she had to figure out for herself, like which contractor to use. Her home was burglarized twice, and she had to put in a whole other round of insurance paperwork.

"It's a lot of work. I don't know how people who have jobs that they have to go to, I don't know how they do it," Brown said. "Because since I've worked for myself I don't have a job to go to, I can do this."

The insurance company's first estimate on the damage to Brown's home was more than $100,000. She accepted the amount without protest.

It seemed like it was a reasonable amount for the amount of damage. Brown said she's placed numerous calls to the insurance company.

"I think what it does for them is it lets them [know] that this is going to be a person that it's hard to pull something on," she said.

While it might have been the right move for Brown to accept the first estimate, even insurance companies say some people should be negotiating for higher damage payouts.

"There's always the opportunity to appeal if you receive an initial payment that you don't feel is justified, that you need more," said Mark Kulda, a spokesman for the Insurance Federation of Minnesota. "We always counsel consumers to not necessarily take that first check as a final number."

The city of Minneapolis is directing north Minneapolis residents who want to contest damage estimates from insurance companies to the non-profit Conflict Resolution Center.

Executive Director Karmit Bulman said people can often increase estimates by thousands of dollars. The center is helping north Minneapolis residents for free, but Bulman said fewer than a dozen have come in. She said they probably don't know about the option.

"After big hurricanes, after Katrina, and after all those hurricanes that were in Florida, both of those states worked out a deal with the large insurance companies to have mandatory mediation that was covered by the insurance companies," Bulman said.

Minnesota can't put on that kind of campaign with the state government shutdown.

SHUTDOWN, TORNADO WEIGH HEAVY

Both subjects — the shutdown and the tornado — were on the minds of people coming out of Kwaanza Community Church in north Minneapolis Sunday.

Ron and Elnora Looten say they have been vigilant about working with their insurance company on repairs to their north Minneapolis home, which doubles as their daycare business.

"A lot of people, because they don't know, are taken advantage of especially in an urban community like north Minneapolis," Ron Looten said.

The Lootens also had trouble with contractors who did shoddy work on their home. The Lootens' business was just getting back to normal when the shutdown came. They decided to stay open even though most of the parents they serve are on state-funded childcare assistance, which is now suspended.

"I don't want to put more pressure on them so we haven't talked about what we're going to do in the future," Elnora Looten said. "Right now we're going to keep our daycare open and if they want to bring they children they welcome."

But Elnora Looten said with disaster after disaster draining their savings, they're not going to be able to stay open for long.

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