2013-12-13 / Editorial/Opinion

A Red Herring And Not Enough Chuck

A red herring is the term used when something is used to distract from what’s truly relevant. The Wall Street Journal used a classic red herring in its recent editorial about allowing devastating flood insurance premiums to go forward. The paper said current flood insurance rates were for “affluent beachcombers.” If the Journal ever looks into the facts, they will be embarrassed about their ignorance. The Journal conveniently overlooks places like Rockaway, Gerritsen Beach, Canarsie, and hundreds of places near the coast or inland bodies of water.

Rockaway is full of middle class and the working poor. It’s a tax base full of regular people who just manage to get by. The Wall Street Journal and others need to get real.

We’ll give The Journal this, the red herring – that flood insurance is for millionaires with beach homes – is effective propaganda. People who don’t live near the coast hear that and are understandably against flood insurance subsidies.

Flood policies pay a top amount of $250,000 and $100,000 for contents. Note to the Wall Street Journal: that’s not enough to build or rebuild an oceanfront mansion. And even if we cede the point that all oceanfront owners are getting unnecessary subsidies we must emphasize that living on the water is different than living near it. Most of the people who live near the water are not “affluent beachcombers.”

The Wall Street Journal and others also like to go after “second home” owners and how they don’t deserve affordable flood insurance. Having a second home is not always a luxury but an investment. Some second home owners don’t have retirement and pension plans. (Many of these plans, like flood insurance, are subsidized. Does The Journal want to get rid of them as well?) So, second homes are investments for many, not luxuries. Owners of these properties pay taxes, strengthen real estate markets and contribute to local economies.

But some, like the Wall Street Journal editorial writers, don’t want to consider the layers of complexity in setting flood insurance rates. It’s easy to say it’s a bunch of fat cats sunning at the beach. At a recent panel at Columbia University Law School a majority of speakers stated their support for Biggert Waters which triggers outlandish premiums. While referring to Biggert-Waters, Steve Ellis of the Taxpayers for Common Sense said the law needs fixing and that “it was hard to pin down actual rate increases” but there was no reason to delay the law.

We suggest he look at what FEMA itself has published. FEMA offers a chart: a house that is 4 feet below the Base Flood Elevation will pay $9500 a year. More than 4 feet below and the rates get insane. Mr. Ellis is often quoted in stories about Biggert-Waters. He and his organization insist that Congress not delay its implementation. On one hand, he says rates are hard to pin down and that Biggert-Waters is a “fixable bill.” But on the other hand, he says full steam ahead with the law. So, we’re supposed to pay now while Congress may or may not fix it? Easy for him to say.

Craig Fugate, director of FEMA, knows there are severe problems with the law. He told Congress directly: I need your help.

Well, it’s time Congress got around to helping. Our own Chuck Schumer seems distracted. This week he issued a statement about how the EPA should ease up on some fire hydrant regulations. Okay, whatever. Meanwhile, we’ve watched other legislators do real fighting against Biggert-Waters. Chuck’s onboard. He doesn’t like the law either, we get that. Well, it’s time Chuck offered some remedies. Fugate needs your help, Chuck. Get to it.

As for our other federal officials, Kirstin Gillibrand and Greg Meeks, you don’t have to wait for Schumer. There are solutions that are better than delaying Biggert-Waters. Do your jobs and fight for your constituents. Now.

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