For Florida, a weak flood insurance delay, but a big win for citrus in federal budget

January 21, 2014 

Last week's congressional passage of an omnibus spending bill gives Florida two victories of sorts -- though both fell short of hopes, especially on property insurance.

The delay in rate increases for property owners covered by the National Flood Insurance Program will surely will bring joy to 78,812 policyholders in Rep. Vern Buchanan's Congressional District 16, which encompasses Sarasota County and western Manatee County. Specifically, those are policyholders facing huge premium hikes because their properties fell below elevation due to remapping.

But the other 30,461 District 16 property owners holding NFIP policies got left behind. Those are the unfortunate ones whose rates already soared.

The delay also fails to help homeowners with insurance subsidies on older homes. Those benefits now cannot be passed along to buyers, an impact that puts sellers in a precarious position. Some potential buyers are backing away from securing home mortgages that will require exorbitant flood insurance policies.

In addition, the omnibus spending bill provides only short-term relief since the measure expires at the end of September 2014. This is far from a solid solution.

But both Buchanan and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson are pursuing bills that put off flood insurance rate increases for years while FEMA conducts an affordability study mandated in earlier legislation -- a must for property owners, the real estate market and the state's economy.

However, House Speaker John Boehner is not entertaining any ideas to repeal the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which raises premiums anywhere from 20 percent to 400 percent. The Ohio Republican left wiggle room, though, stating he's willing to listen to alternatives. The Senate is expected to approve a delay in major portions of the law, something the House should pass as well so the nation can take a cautious approach instead of the sledgehammer now being wielded.

Gov. Rick Scott is taking another approach, last week requesting an audience with President Obama to discuss the onerous rate increases under Biggert-Waters.

Scott intends to convince Obama to use his executive authority to delay implementation of the act, just as the president did with the Affordable Care Act. We hope the governor succeeds, because congressional action is uncertain and Obama could make a delay immediate.

One way or another, Washington must provide a flood insurance fix stronger than the one approved last week.

Win for citrus greening

The other victory provides Florida with $20 million for research into citrus greening, a deadly disease that threatens the future of the state's signature agricultural product. Federal funding is a vital addition to the state and private money already paying for research.

The 2013-2014 citrus harvest is forecast to be the smallest in 24 years, an alarming sign that points to the urgency of this situation.

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