U.S. House files bill to delay increase in flood insurance rates

Most of the Louisiana congressional delegation teamed up to file legislation Thursday in the House that would delay federal flood insurance rate hikes from potentially skyrocketing near the end of the year.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, led the effort with Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who co-sponsored the National Flood Insurance Program reauthorization last year.

They were joined by Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman; and Doris Matsui, D-Calif.

The proposed Flood Insurance Implementation Reform Act would delay for five years rate hikes from going into effect after properties are sold and stall for three years rates hikes going into effect as properties have their “grandfathered” statuses phased out.

The bill also would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify non-structural flood mitigation on its flood maps, such as forests and marshlands. FEMA’s flood maps, which are still pending, currently only factor in 100-year flood protection structures.

“A consistent, affordable flood insurance program is critical to the U.S. economy, especially for areas recovering from recent flooding,” Richmond said in the announcement.

The National Flood Insurance Program allows homeowners and businesses in flood zones that have trouble getting private insurance to obtain policies backed by the federal government.

Nearly 500,000 people in Louisiana participate in the NFIP. The program has been in financial distress with a loss of more than $20 billion, largely due to payments made after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

The Biggert-Waters flood insurance bill was tucked into an omnibus transportation bill that became law last year without tweaks being made to it.

The insurance fear is that proposed flood maps will cost Louisiana residents and business owners a lot more — potential rates hikes of more than 20 percent a — – in the congressional effort to make the flood insurance program more self-sustainable.

Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., is no longer in Congress.

The proposed flood maps are still under federal review but more parts of the state’s coast are becoming high-risk velocity zones, or V-zones, where insurance rates increase more. The program also is going to start phasing out “grandfathered” rates next year.

“Louisiana families deserve a clear and full understanding of the upcoming NFIP changes and FEMA’s inability to provide this information has jeopardized the viability of the entire program,” Scalise stated.

“While these are important initial steps, much more needs to be done to protect the homeowners of Louisiana,” Cassidy added in the announcement. “To that end, I will be working with (Republican House) leadership and the chairmen of the relevant committees to develop a comprehensive long-term strategy to accomplish flood insurance reform.”

In the Senate, Mary Landrieu, D-La., earlier this week filed the Strengthen, Modernize and Reform The National Flood Insurance Program Act that would indefinitely delay the rate hikes until six months after Congress receives an affordability study by FEMA. That bill also protects grandfathered properties.