Not Out Of The Water Yet
Fending off devastating flood insurance premiums is an ongoing, complex battle being waged at grassroots rallies and in the halls of Congress. In Washington, it’s not as simple as these people are in favor and those are against and now let’s vote. In the Senate, there are esoteric rules and procedures in place that must be followed before any meaningful vote can take place.
On Thursday, January 30th, the Senate voted to put a moratorium on the extreme flood insurance rate hikes set to take effect under the Biggert-Waters Act. The vote was 67-32 in favor of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act.
Reached for comment after the vote Senator Chuck Schumer stated that the “passage of the (bill) in the Senate is an important step in the fight to prevent….New Yorkers from facing crippling flood insurance premium increases and loss of property value. (They) are still recovering from the destructive force of Superstorm Sandy and back-to-back years of extreme weather and flooding, and this bill prevents…increased flood insurance premiums that can break the bank.
“The bottom line,” he said, “is that FEMA must do the required affordability study first. It makes no sense to raise flood insurance rates before we consider how homeowners will be able to afford to pay them…I am urging my colleagues in the House to quickly follow suit and pass this bill.”
The legislation delays the implementation of rate increases until FEMA meets two requirements.
First, the agency must complete the affordability study mandated by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, and then submit a draft affordability proposal for Congressional review. From there Congress would have to give FEMA authority to go forward.
Second, the FEMA Administrator must certify that the agency has used sound scientific and engineering methods to come up with the flood risk levels for all areas covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.
FEMA estimates it will take at least two years to complete the affordability study before a draft regulatory framework can be provided to Congress.
The newly approved Senate Act also puts a four year hold on any changes made under the Biggert-Waters Act going back to its passage on July 6th, 2012.
As Schumer noted, the measure now goes to the House of Representatives for debate and hopefully, approval.
If the road to ultimate victory in delaying, amending, or repealing Biggert-Waters, involved a series of legislative challenges, then a major hurdle was passed on Monday when the U.S. Senate voted 86-13 to begin debate on the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. The vote was just to advance the issue by way of debate that led to the vote on Thursday.
However, the issue is a long way from being resolved. As the Senate was debating the Affordability Act, similar legislation has been moving towards a vote in the House. The debate in Congress promised to be difficult. Many representatives are dead set against offering subsidies of any kind and want no change to the current law.
And neither does the White House.
While the 13 members of the Senate who voted ‘no’ on debating the issue were all Republican, the White House issued a statement the same day declaring that any delay would harm the National Flood Insurance Program. The White House statement recommended implementing Bigger-Waters before the conclusion of an affordability study.
The White House was blasted by fellow Democrat, Senator Mary Landrieu, who said the statement was “shortsighted, misguided and irresponsible.” She added, “How this Administration thinks it can ‘ensure that economically distressed policyholders are not unduly burdened’ before it completes the affordability study or certifies that its maps are accurate and reliable is completely mind- boggling. That is exactly the kind of backward and upside- down thinking that got us into this mess in the first place.”
Governor Rick Scott of Florida, a Republican, took President Obama to task after the State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Scott said, “What we didn’t hear tonight was how he would undo the outrageous flood insurance hikes he forced on Floridians.”
As for many others in Congress, it is likely that other representatives haven’t yet heard from their constituents. While A Zones – the very expensive flood designation - exist in all 50 states, the news of Biggert- Waters and the crushing flood rates that come with it has yet to make headlines in many places. FEMA has yet to remap many areas or notify policyholders of the new rates. Many people simply don’t know what’s coming. Without feedback from constituents some congressional members may feel comfortable in resisting calls to change the law.
Meanwhile, a grassroots effort continues.
Stop FEMA Now has chapters in 20 states. Founder George Kasimos, based in New Jersey, said of Monday’s Senate vote, “This is a good start. There’s a long way to go. This is only a postponement of very high rates. If and when this bill passes, that’s when the hard work to actually change the law will begin.”
To get involved or to keep abreast of developments, people can go online and find out more at Twitter (@stopfemanow) and on Facebook.
Congressman Gregory Meeks weighs in on Biggert-Waters in a column on page 17 of this week’s Wave.