2013-11-01 / Front Page

Flood Delay Proposed

FEMA NOT STOPPED YET
By Kevin Boyle

Reality seems to be taking hold in some corners of Congress. Bi-partisan groups in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have reached a deal to delay flood insurance hikes.

But hold the celebration.

It has not yet gone to vote. According to Senator Charles Schumer’s office, it will be voted upon as a stand alone piece of legislation or an amendment to a larger bill in the coming months. So, the good news is that there is bipartisan support for the delay. The less than clear news is when this will happen and if there will be enough bipartisan support for the delay to make it happen.

To be sure, there are members in both Houses, many of whom are backed by Big Insurance, who will fight the delay and any changes to the law that is designed to collect huge premiums.

The delay focuses on FEMA’s failure to complete an affordability study which it was mandated to do as part of the Biggert-Waters Act, the law that set in motion steps to put the National Flood Insurance Program on solid financial footing after being nearly bankrupt as a result of payouts for Hurricane Katrina.

In July, 2012 Congress passed Biggert- Waters which “seemed like good legislation at the time” according to Rep. Peter King (NY) and his colleagues. Legislators say, however, the costs FEMA (which runs the flood program) wants to charge as a result of Biggert- Waters was never revealed until after it became law. When FEMA revealed “actuarial rates” that could cost homeowners as much as $30,000 per year, even Maxine Waters, one of the co-authors of the original bill, said there were “unintended consequences” and the law should be reformed.

The proposed legislation would bring about a four year delay and include primary residences that are currently grandfathered; properties sold after July, 2012 and for policies bought after July, 2012. Many people in Rockaway have recently purchased policies for the first time but these are at risk of being redone when new flood maps are adopted. This proposal would protect the new policy holders. The proposal does not cover second homes or homes that were substantially damaged in Sandy.

Schumer, among the senators pushing for the delay, said “It is glaringly obvious that something is very wrong with a program that could require middle class families to pay as much as $20,000 or $30,000 a year for a policy with coverage that is capped at $250,000. That just can’t be right.”

Congressman Gregory Meeks said at a meeting in Breezy Point on Sunday that “Momentum is growing. This is a bipartisan issue people are just starting to understand. The chances of this passed is increasing every day.”

The bottom line: it is a true start in reforming the Biggert-Waters Act. The other truism: the battle is just beginning.

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