MANATEE -- As residents shared horror stories of pending flood insurance increases, Rep. Vern Buchanan on Tuesday vowed to help to ease the burden for families affected by the reformed National Flood Insurance Program.
"I'm personally committed with other members of the state of Florida to dealing with this to make sense. This makes no sense," Buchanan said during a public forum at New College of Florida. "It will hurt our community."
Buchanan, R-Sarasota, called for a delay for most of the rate increases to flood insurance until the Federal Emergency Management Agency completes an affordability study to figure out the real cost to the government, the program and policyholders. Mississippi Insurance Commission is suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to block rates imposed by the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 until that affordability study is done. Florida did not join the suit but filed a "friend of the court" brief to show support.
The latest rounds of increases took effect Oct. 1, and Congress has failed to agree on legislation to delay the rates, in some instances, raising policies by thousands of dollars for homes in special flood hazard areas. The latest rate increases when policies renew are causing homes built below base flood line elevation, and before Dec. 31, 1974 when the first flood maps were made, to experience the greatest increases.
"It takes a lot of people out of their original home," Buchanan sad. "It's just not acceptable, and we got to find a way to work with FEMA, and that's why we need the affordability study."
John van Zandt of Island Real Estate of Anna Maria Island said the changes are scaring off homebuyers.
"Buyers I've been working with for the last two months are rejecting ground floor or base flood elevation homes in favor of only looking at elevated properties," Zandt said.
Susan Wilson, chief of FEMA's Floodplain Management and Insurance Branch in Atlanta, provided several tips for how to lower premiums, and one of the easiest is to obtain an elevation certificate and to raise air conditioning units and water heaters above the ground, she said.
On top of the elimination of subsidized rates, the act also changed the ceiling for how much a normal rate adjustment can be added, Wilson said, up to 20 percent annually, double from the existing 10 percent.
Manatee County will also get new flood rate maps March 17, 2014, potentially triggering more increases, but limited in the scope of the county.
"The majority of maps are not changing drastically from what's previously been seen," said Sandy Tudor, floodplain manager for Manatee County.
Florida has the most flood insurance policy-holders at more than 2 million, and since 1978 has the second most claims in the program at 240,374. It ranks fifth in total payments at $3.7 billion, behind Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas, according to FEMA data. Manatee County has the 10th most subsidized policies in the state -- based on estimated risk versus cost -- with 11,264 policies, according to FEMA.
In Manatee County, the flood insurance program paid out $27.1 million in claims from Jan. 1, 1978 to July 31, 2013, for 3,084 losses, according to FEMA data. More than 1,200 claims didn't receive payment, according to FEMA.
For more, read Wednesday's Bradenton Herald or online at Bradenton.com
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter@ImYourChuck.