2013-05-17 / Front Page

Schumer Fighting Flood Premiums But…

By Kevin Boyle

“Flood insurance is a mess.” In a visit to The Wave on Monday, Senator Charles Schumer echoed the sentiments of homeowners throughout the area who’ve just learned in recent weeks they could be facing flood insurance premiums of $9500 a year or more.

As The Wave reported previously, in an attempt to put the National Flood Insurance Program on better financial footing Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act in June, 2012. In doing so, Schumer and his colleagues allowed FEMA to implement costly insurance premiums. By the new rules, FEMA could charge premiums as high as $32,000 a year in a “V” flood zone. In the more common “A Zone” mapped areas, premiums are still expensive with the highest rate projected to be more than $25,000 per year.

The often-referred to amount of $9500 a year is the approximate figure FEMA uses to illustrate how expensive insurance will get unless homes meet certain elevation requirements. In fact, the costs could be considerably higher using FEMA’s less advertised models. Homes with basements, for example, would carry premiums closer to $20,000 per year.

Although Schumer supported the original legislation that triggered the expensive premiums, he backed a recent move by Senate colleague, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, to freeze premiums for five years. She attempted to add an amendment to a new bill before the Senate but the effort was turned back by Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania who filed an “objection” thereby not even allowing the amendment to move to a vote. Toomey made statements supporting the Biggert-Waters act and the need to remove government subsidies from flood insurance. After her amendment attempt failed, Landrieu responded, pointing out that flood insurance is a national issue and that thousands of people in Toomey’s own state of Pennsylvania have flood insurance supported by subsidies.

For his part, before Toomey rejected Landrieu’s attempt, Schumer wasn’t convinced Landrieu’s amendment would proceed. “I’m not going to tell you it’s going to pass. We’re just fighting as hard as we can. And if doesn’t pass, we’ll come back with another amendment.”

When asked why he voted for Biggert Waters in the first place, Schumer said FEMA was not forthcoming about the costs. We had to vote “because if we didn’t there would have been no flood insurance for anybody. And I knew it would go up a little bit. I never thought it would be this. They never gave us a number close to $9500. And now, I don’t trust the flood insurance program. You get different answers from them all the time.”

Schumer said there has to be significant changes to make flood insurance affordable. “We can’t have millions of homeowners not able to afford their homes.” He said he expects there will be opposition to changes in the law but because A Zones exist in all 50 states it will only be a matter of time before bipartisan agreement takes place. “I can’t imagine how anyone would not want to change it (Biggert-Waters).” Landrieu said the law was “the cure that could kill us.”

Landrieu has been out front on the issue and has the support of Schumer and fellow New York Senator Gillibrand. New Jersey Senators have voiced strong support as well. But Toomey’s stance – that subsidies must end — is a signal that Schumer and the others face difficult opposition in Congress. That opposition will be the reason homeowners in Rockaway including Breezy Point and Broad Channel face the potentially devastating consequences of runaway insurance premiums.

Schumer remained insistent: “If we don’t win this time, we’re going to win. We’re going to win this fight.” In an address to colleagues in the Senate on Wednesday after Landrieu’s amendment was rejected, Schumer said, “Many of my colleagues will begin to hear from their constituents about the challenges they’re facing as flood insurance premiums are increased and they will ultimately act to fix this problem once and for all.”

Revised flood maps are expected to be issued within the next two weeks.

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