2013-09-20 / Front Page

FEMA Head Hides Behind Staff

Commentary By Kevin Boyle

Craig Fugate, head of FEMA, came before the US Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday to answer questions about the Biggert-Waters Act, the law set to trigger skyrocketing flood insurance premiums.

Fugate answered some tough questions from Senators from several states by saying he was only following rules “enacted by law” and was following the advice of FEMA staff and counsel to implement actuarial rates, remove grandfather clauses, and immediately cut subsidies for second homes and businesses. He cited staff and counsel again when asked why the law could not be delayed until the completion of an affordability study which FEMA was supposed to complete within 270 days of the Biggert-Waters Act becoming law, which was in July, 2012. “I read the legislation,” Fugate said. “My attorneys read the legislation. Our staff looked at it. If I had a way based upon the legislation, the technical implementation, I don’t see it.”

He said such a study needed more funding and could not be completed for two to three years.

In a nutshell, Fugate said his staff told him it was okay to cherry pick the legislation, implement costly measures and ignore the affordability study.

Still, Fugate seems to realize how perilous the Biggert Waters Act will be for homeowners. Although he maintained that second homes, new construction, and businesses should receive no subsidies he said FEMA did not “want to put people out of their homes.” Fugate said to the senators, “Let me put my cards on the table: I need your help.’’ He said changes have to be legislative and that he lacks the authority to delay or amend the law (signed into law by the President with help from votes by Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Congressman Meeks).

The far ranging impact of the Biggert-Waters Act is starting to make itself apparent. Senators from Nevada, Massachusetts, Montana, Louisiana, and Oregon were among those questioning Fugate.

Senators Landrieu and Vitter of Louisiana have been the two most vocal Senators on the matter. Landrieu has introduced amendments to stall Biggert Waters but her efforts have been stymied by colleagues in the Senate, most notably Senator Twomey of Pennsylvania, a state with more flood zones than most.

Landrieu told her colleagues, “We made a mistake [passing Biggert-Waters] and we’ve got to fix it. We need to repeal it, amend it or delay it.” Vitter added, “This is not a parochial Louisiana issue. This is a movie coming to a theater near you and it does not have a happy ending.”

Because Fugate said help has to come from the legislative side, Schumer, Gillibrand, and Meeks must press colleagues for changes in the law. Schumer, who was also in attendance, said people who have been paying a thousand dollars a year “can’t be expected to now pay $9000 a year.”

The Stop FEMA Now rally set for Saturday, September 28th in Broad Channel is scheduled in part to make representatives aware just how deadly serious an issue this is. If Senators from nearby Pennsylvania don’t get it, there is a lot of work to be done.

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