A setback for reasonable flood insurance rate hike delay

February 9, 2014 

In some quarters, partisanship in the GOP-dominated U.S. House of Representatives got blamed for the defeat of a measure that would have approved a bipartisan Senate measure to delay flood insurance reform. But that sensible postponement was attached to unrelated legislation that Republicans found not only objectionable but possibly poisonous to the vital flood measure.

Longboat Key Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan is a co-sponsor of House legislation to achieve similar goals as the Senate measure, and his office states unequivocally that he is committed to achieving his bill to the floor of the chamber by month's end.

"There is no bigger issue on our radar than flood insurance," Max Goodman, one of Buchanan's key aides, told this Editorial Board Friday. "This is a fragile issue."

While the two votes last week to reject consideration of packaged legislation that included the Senate delay in flood premium increases went along party lines, Goodman said Buchanan continues to work with Democrats to ensure relief to homeowners facing crippling insurance premiums. This is not a partisan issue for sure, it's an economic issue.

Like the Senate measure, Buchanan seeks to delay implementation of draconian premium increases while forcing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to complete a rate affordability study as mandated in the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.

That law's goal remains laudable -- to ensure solvency for the National Flood Insurance Program, currently in debt by $24 billion due to Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. But the swiftness of the financial shock to homeowners socked with massive premium increases, some reaching a 400 percent hike, is tough to justify.

Fighting the good fight

Buchanan has championed a reasonable delay and study, stating last month that "Hundreds of thousands of Floridians are experiencing untenable rate increases that threaten to wash away property values and push people out of their homes."

Many of those homeowners are already paying higher rates, as of Oct. 1, 2013. The next round will strike this coming October.

Manatee County is home to the 10th-most subsidized NFIP polices in Florida with coverage of 11,264 properties, according to FEMA.

Overall in Rep. Buchanan's 16th Congressional District, delayed premium increases could impact 78,812 flood insurance policyholders out of the 109,273 in his Manatee-Sarasota district.

FEMA did announce last week that rate increases required by new flood maps will be pushed back until the fall of 2015. This came as a result of congressional passage of January's omnibus spending bill. However, homeowners already slapped with higher premiums will not receive relief and other non-grandfathered properties won't either. Frequently flooded properties and second homes are also set for rate hikes.

Congress created this nightmare, and the issue deserves deeper consideration of the unintended consequences of the Biggert-Waters Act.

Thousands of Buchanan's constituents are watching, and now we are confident the congressman will continue to fight for those property owners.

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