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State puts more resources behind 'mobile cabinet' to assist in Sandy recovery

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    After going solo in providing face-to-face assistance with the insurance claims process for Hurricane Sandy victims for the past three months, the state Department of Banking and Insurance will combine resources with other members of Gov. Chris Christie's cabinet to handle casework in Monmouth County beginning Tuesday.

    According to Christie spokesman Sean Conner, senior-level department staff from DOBI, the Department of Community Affairs, the Business Action Center and the Department of Environmental Protection will join consumer representatives at a "mobile cabinet" site in Union Beach from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 5 to offer guidance on Sandy-related permitting and insurance processes to area residents and business owners affected by the superstorm.

    At a Nov. 13 press conference, Christie said, "The idea here is to get into the communities that have been most devastated by the storm as they now go into the next phase of this, which is collecting on insurance and having their claims handled and getting their businesses back up to speed by having access to capital."

    "We don't want people to have to worry about getting on the phone with the banking and insurance department," Christie said. "We're going to bring the banking and insurance department to them, so they can have their questions answered on scene. And if there's interventions we need to make with insurance companies, we can do that in a real-time basis for them."

    Since the effort's launch, DOBI has conducted six mobile offices throughout Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties, as well as a seventh office in Bergen County at a site in Little Ferry.

    Conner said in an e-mail the Christie administration chose to add more departments to Tuesday's "mobile cabinet" lineup because it "wanted to provide a 'one-stop' approach for New Jerseyans in their rebuilding efforts by bringing together the various state-level agencies that deal with housing, permitting and business assistance, alongside FEMA's individual assistance professionals."

    Though DOBI has only managed a little more than a handful of mobile offices since November, spokesman Marshall McKnight said the department has sent staff out into the field "virtually every day" to help businesses and consumers navigate insurance and commercial property claims. But McKnight said those staff members frequently encounter issues that require assistance from additional state agencies; it's hoped the new integrated format will better resolve them.

    "There are always some questions and situations that reach across department lines, and the recovery absolutely has many, if not most, departments involved," McKnight said. "We've definitely seen it, and we've worked with other departments in helping New Jerseyans recover from Sandy — and this mobile cabinet is a way to get us all into the field together to answer more questions."

    To expedite the process, business owners and consumers with insurance questions are asked to bring their policies and any claims information with them to the new mobile office, located at the Union Hose Fire Co. No. 1 on Florence Avenue, in Union Beach.

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