Senate set to vote on flood insurance rate hike delay

The U.S. Senate is planning to begin procedural votes Wednesday on legislation that would delay, by about four years, increases in flood insurance rates for many policyholders in Louisiana and elsewhere.

A group of southern Louisiana political and business leaders are traveling to Washington on Tuesday to make a renewed push for the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act that needs to meet a 60-vote threshold on Wednesday in a litmus test preliminary vote.

The National Flood Insurance Program has been in financial distress with a loss of nearly $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.

Congress last year 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 that many lawmakers anticipated.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act 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 hikes, though, for businesses, secondary vacation homes and homes that repeatedly flooded that were all grandfathered into artificially lower premiums for flood insurance before flood maps were created. Such affected policyholders will see 25 percent annual premium increases over a few years.

Although she has said it is a tough fight, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has predicted that the needed votes will be there.

If the legislation receives at least 60 votes on Wednesday, then a final vote could come as early as Thursday or it could be pushed back until next week.

The lead sponsors of the legislation are Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. But Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., are counted among nearly 30 co-sponsors.

Jefferson Parish President John Young, St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom, Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph and Greater New Orleans Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht are all expected in Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday to help with the effort.

The same bill in the House has nearly 170 co-sponsors, but the legislation has not yet moved. One of the key roadblocks is the opposition of Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee through which the bill would likely travel.

In a funding bill, the House has passed a one-year delay of the flood insurance hikes — an amendment by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge — but the lack of a budget deal until late last year had stalled the progression of all such appropriations bills.