2013-05-10 / Front Page

CHUCK IN CHARGE?

Flood Update
By Kevin Boyle

Although new flood maps are expected to be issued as early as May 21st, Senator Schumer isn’t waiting to begin the fight against potentially devastating flood insurance rates. While appearing on C-Span2 on Thursday, Schumer addressed other Senators and asked, “What kind of insurance is flood insurance if it’s $10,000 a year? It’s absurd.”

Schumer and fellow Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are backing a move by Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana who has introduced an amendment to legislation before the U.S. Senate.

Currently, the Senate is debating a bill called the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), S 601. Basically, it’s a bill that authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to undertake water infrastructure projects such as building dams, dredging, improving harbors and taking flood control measures.

Landrieu’s amendment would put an immediate halt to premium rate increases until FEMA conducts an affordability study and allows for adequate time to act on (and presumably, challenge) the results.

FEMA is already required to conduct an affordability study as part of the Biggert Waters Act but rate hikes are not incumbent upon the study being completed. Landrieu’s amendment would force FEMA to complete the study before implementing rate increases.

The Louisiana senator had previously written to FEMA requesting a delay in increases until the study was done but got no response. Because FEMA failed to act, she has elected to attempt a legislative fix with her amendment.

Her action got the immediate support of Schumer and Gillibrand. In a statement submitted directly to The Wave a day before his C-Span appearance, Senator Schumer said: “I will strongly support this amendment that staves off massive, looming flood insurance hikes for Rockaway’s homeowners, many of whom are dedicating every available penny to rebuilding. I discussed this issue with Senator Landreiu, the amendment’s sponsor, yesterday (Tuesday), and told her she could count not only on my vote, but my full assistance in the effort to pass it.“

Gillibrand’s office was also quick to respond to The Wave’s request for comment on Landrieu’s amendment: “Yes, Senator Gillibrand will co-sponsor Landrieu’s amendment to WRDA. She’s a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.”

Schumer made the case for Landrieu’s amendment by telling his colleagues in the Senate: “many of these homes are middle class homes. These are not rich people. They’ve worked hard. Some are teachers or policemen or firemen or construction workers. Or small business owners. It’s unfair to hit homeowners with massive new flood insurance premiums without any plans to address the needs of those who can’t afford these out-of-control premiums. People are upset and they should be.”

It should be noted, the amendment, if added, will only stop insurance increases in the short term. There is no guarantee that the affordability study will pave the way for more moderate rates. The amendment is potentially no more than a stalling tactic.

As it happens, a growing number of people and groups are calling for more than the completion of an affordability study. They want a repeal of the Biggert Waters Act altogether which was signed into law in July, 2012. The law, designed to replenish the coffers of the National Flood Insurance Program, had bipartisan support and now apparently bipartisan regret. Last week, in a visit to Belle Harbor, Republican Congressman Peter King said, “It seemed like good legislation at the time.”

All fifty states have “A Zone” flood areas and all coastal states have some “V Zones,” according to FEMA. These two zones have insurance premiums that can reach between $10,000 and $30,000 per year. Although people in New York, New Jersey and Louisiana are just about the only ones making noise at this point, once the rates start affecting citizens in 47 other states, there is sure to be an uproar across the country.

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