Flood insurance vote slated

By PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

The U.S Senate is expected to take up a vote to delay National Flood Insurance Program rate hikes when it returns to work in January, according to a news release from Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans.
The proposed legislation would fix major flaws in the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform law to make national flood insurance affordable, accessible and self-sustainable, Landrieu said.
St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin said quick action is needed for homeowners across the state.
“This will be very much appreciated by not just St. Mary Parish but by all of Louisiana, especially the 19 coastal parishes,” Naquin said.
Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, said Congress must take action or people will start to lose their homes because of unaffordable insurance rates.
“Without a change, flood insurance is simply going to be unaffordable for middle class families. Homeowners will literally have to turn in their keys and in some cases walk away from their homes,” Vitter said. “But this isn’t just a Louisiana issue — it’s going to affect folks across the country — so it’s critical that we take action on it right away in the new year.”
The bipartisan Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act will delay the most aggressive rate increases until the Federal Emergency Management Agency understands how the increases will impact individual policyholders, Landrieu’s news release said.
Louisiana has nearly 500,000 NFIP policies, and there are more than 5.5 million policyholders nationwide.
Biggert-Waters was passed by Congress last year to make the National Flood Insurance Program self-sustainable after nearly $25 billion in losses, largely due to payments made after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
The proposed legislation delays rate increases on homes and businesses built to code and later remapped into a higher risk area as well as properties built before flood maps were released. Under Biggert-Water these properties could have immediate rate hikes when they are sold.
Homeowners who built their houses to code and who played by the rules set out by FEMA should be protected from rate increases, Naquin said.
“The way it stands right now, you can build your house to a map we approve today and then tomorrow FEMA could change the map and you would not be built to the elevation you need on the new map,” Naquin said.
The proposed act requires FEMA to certify that their flood maps are accurate and ensures local levees and other flood control structures are treated fairly in the mapping process, the news release said.
Naquin said most of St. Mary Parish is protected by federally-built levees so the parish would not see the same sort of increases surrounding parishes which have built their own levee systems are fretting over.
An important component to the new legislation forces FEMA to recognize the protection offered to communities who self-financed flood protection, Landrieu said.
Another provision includes the establishment of a Flood Insurance Advocate within FEMA to aid and assist policyholders. The Rate Map Advocate would answer current and prospective policyholder questions about the flood mapping process and will be responsible for educating policyholders about their individual flood risks.
“We better wake up and realize the economic impact this is going to have on the entire country if this is not fixed,” Landrieu said. “This is about the middle class and working hard where you need to live to work,” Landrieu said.
The proposed legislation does not address the issue of rate hikes for businesses, vacation homes or homes that repeatedly flooded which were grandfathered in with artificially lower premiums who expect to see 25 percent annual increases in their premium over a few years.

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