Flood insurance delay part of budget compromise vote

Associated Press file photo by Gerald Herbert -- Homes seen as floodwaters from Hurricane Isaac that rose to the rooftops in Braithwaite. Show caption
Associated Press file photo by Gerald Herbert -- Homes seen as floodwaters from Hurricane Isaac that rose to the rooftops in Braithwaite.

The omnibus budget bill that Congress will vote on, beginning Wednesday, contains a provision that would delay flood insurance rate hikes until the end of the year for policyholders who were drawn into more expensive zones in flood maps.

The wording, first authored by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, then adopted by his political rival, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., represents a partial win for the Louisiana congressional delegation, as it fights for more comprehensive fixes to the National Flood Insurance Program.

The National Flood Insurance Program has been in financial distress with a loss of about $25 billion, largely due to payments made after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Louisiana has nearly 500,000 NFIP policies, and there are more than 5.5 million policyholders nationwide.

In 2012, Congress passed legislation to make the program more self-sustainable in a large omnibus bill, but the flood insurance rate hikes are much more expensive and onerous than many lawmakers anticipated.

Cassidy praised the inclusion of the nearly one-year delay of rate hikes for some policyholders.

“I will again advocate for this relief in every relevant spending bill, every year, until permanent and equitable relief is brought to the homeowner,” Cassidy said. “As I said time and time again, the Cassidy Amendment was step one in a multistep process providing relief to homeowners.”

Landrieu also praised the legislation.

“Our delegation has been united in our efforts to fix flood insurance, and we worked together to get this one-year delay of rate increases for grandfathered properties into this final appropriations bill,” Landrieu said.

But the additional focus in the Senate is on the pending and more comprehensive Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act that would delay by about four years the insurance hikes on primary residences — excluding properties that suffered repeated flooding — that have received “grandfathered” lower premiums. The legislation also would delay the property sale “trigger” so that homes and businesses sold after July 6, 2012, do not see dramatic automatic insurance increases.

The legislation does not address rate increases for businesses, secondary vacation homes and homes that repeatedly flooded that were grandfathered into artificially lower insurance premiums before the flood maps were created. Such affected policyholders will see 25 percent annual premium increases over a few years.

The Senate was planning to take up the bill as early as last week, but another bill to extend emergency unemployment benefits unexpectedly survived the week before being temporarily defeated Tuesday. As such, the NFIP bill was delayed and now faces a time crunch before the Senate takes a recess period after this week.

Landrieu said she will push again on Wednesday to get “unanimous consent” to bring the NFIP bill up in an expedited fashion without a single objection. Landrieu said she is trying to agree to votes on amendments with some senators who are in opposition to the bill to keep them from objecting.

“I cannot go home again without getting this fixed,” Landrieu said on the Senate floor.