Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on Congress should make sure flood insurance is affordable:

May 11

Times-Picayune, New Orleans, on Congress should make sure flood insurance is affordable:

Hurricane Isaac spared 86-year-old Addie Riley’s home in Bohemia last fall. But new federal flood insurance rules have put her and her daughter Johnetta Simpson, 64, in a difficult spot: Either elevate their home 18 feet to abide by new FEMA flood maps or face tens of thousands of dollars per year in additional insurance costs.

They and many others in Plaquemines Parish can’t afford to do either of those things, but they don’t want to leave. And, even if they did decide to leave, selling their home would be quite difficult because anyone who bought it would face the same insurance burdens.

Unless Congress intervenes, thousands of residents along the Gulf Coast and the Eastern Seaboard will face the same dilemma. Many could end up uninsured against disaster because they can’t afford the policy costs.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu filed an amendment Tuesday to the Water Resources Development Act that temporarily would halt the flood insurance premium increases Congress approved last year. She wants FEMA to conduct an affordability study and report back. “I agree that the National Flood Insurance Program needs to be self-sustaining, but this is not the right way,” she said.

Sen. David Vitter, who was a member of the conference committee that finalized flood insurance changes last year, is co-sponsoring Sen. Landrieu’s amendment. She also got all four senators from New York and New Jersey to sign on, which reflects concerns prompted by Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of that region in late October.

Sen. Landrieu’s idea of a time-out to look at ways to keep policies affordable is reasonable, and Congress ought to go along with it. ...

When Congress passed Biggert-Waters, it was sold as a way to bring stability to the flood insurance program by phasing out federal subsidies and rates that had been grandfathered in. As Sen. Landrieu said, it is important to reduce the flood program’s $24 billion debt.

But that shouldn’t be done in a way that will put tens of thousands of homeowners and businesses under water financially.

A FEMA official provided a hint of what is coming at a public meeting in Morgan City in late March. ...

For coastal residents in Louisiana and Mississippi, the rates will be accelerated by the massive storm surge from Katrina and subsequent hurricanes reflected in updated flood maps.

The six-figure cost of raising a home or business is out of reach for many people, and thousands of them in our region rebuilt to the old standards after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They abided by the rules at the time, with FEMA’s blessing. It’s unfair of Congress to change the rules so drastically on them.



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