2014-03-21 / Editorial/Opinion

Read This, Too

Just about a year ago, on March 29th, 2013 The Wave put its editorial on the front page for the first time in its 120 year history. The headline blared: Read This!

This is about YOU. About you, your family, your friends. It’s about you whether you rent or own. Whether you have a mortgage or not. It’s about the future of Rockaway. Period. This is not hype or a headline grabbing stunt. We want YOU to be aware of what is unfolding. If you care about Rockaway this is about you. It’s not a fun subject but don’t let your eyes glaze over. It’s about FEMA and flood insurance.

While most of us were putting our lives back together in the months after Sandy, our government was ready to unleash a second storm that would have finished Rockaway once and for all. Flood insurance rates were set to soar to many thousands of dollars a year.

The rates threatened more than homeowners and businesses. The rates would have destabilized all of Rockaway and eventually made it a ghost town.

Today, March 21st, 2014 we’re not warning, we’re saluting.

Again, this is about YOU. Your family and your friends. You wouldn’t stand for it. You started your own flood -- a flood of calls, letters, and emails to elected officials. You joined hundreds of others at a Stop FEMA Now rally in Broad Channel. The people of Rockaway, Broad Channel, Howard Beach and a handful from Tom’s River, New Jersey started a movement that spread across the country.

And you were heard. President Obama will sign the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act into law which will nullify much of the Biggert-Waters Act, the law that started the trouble in the first place.

You helped lead a grassroots effort that overcame government stupidity and Big Insurance, the happy beneficiary of costly premiums.

If you drive a car you’ve forgotten about the number of times you’ve had to honk the horn to prevent an accident or avert disaster. This one shouldn’t be forgotten. You leaned on the horn and disaster was averted.

It’s not a perfect bill by any means but it offers protection to homeowners and communities alike. And Congress, which showed off its great ignorance by passing the Biggert-Waters Act, should be smarter now. Congress knows FEMA can’t be trusted. It’s time for Congress to work under the assumption FEMA will do the wrong thing.

The National Flood Insurance Program, run by FEMA, is to be reauthorized by congress in 2017. Between now and then, Congress should continue to tweak the rules and make flood insurance affordable for all. There are two provisions we would like Congress to address.

The new bill says FEMA should “strive” to keep premiums at 1 percent of coverage ($2500 for $250,000 in coverage). That’s steep enough. Premiums beyond that start the “unintended consequences” triggered by Biggert-Waters. The law should mandate that the flood program offer deductibles of $20,000. (The first $20,000 in damage is paid by the policy holder). Higher deductibles mean lower yearly rates.

Away from Washington, we’d like to see Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder stay after New York State to devise its own flood insurance program. State Senators Joe Addabbo Jr. and James Sanders Jr. should be doing the same.

We urge homeowners to buy flood insurance but shop around. The rates should be uniform but there’s still a lot of messiness. With FEMA in charge, we’re quite certain that some homeowners will get prices that vary greatly.

The buzzword since Sandy has been resilience. And so far, from the government, we’ve only heard a lot of talk. But your efforts in this fight have actually made Rockaway more resilient. Flood insurance won’t be the town killer it was designed to be.

YOU deserve a round of applause for this victory. Just keep in mind, there may be more battles.

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