Our Views: Don’t delay flood bill

For a building that is supposed to be full of smart people, the Obama White House is kind of slow on the uptake about the National Flood Insurance Program.

Maybe Hurricane Sandy should have flooded the nation’s capital instead of New York and New Jersey, so that Washingtonians learned the lessons of the past.

The administration has issued a policy statement expressing concern about the fiscal impact of the proposed delay of the 2012 law that was intended to raise flood insurance rates. That is not news to anyone in the House or Senate, particularly from coastal states or river regions, who has dealt with this issue over the last year or so.

Nor, in fact, do many of those now pushing a delay in the 2012 Biggert-Waters law disagree that there should be gradual increases in rates to replenish the NFIP fund. It is, as the administration says, $24 billion in debt to the Treasury because, mostly, of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

What is clear enough is that the way that Biggert-Waters was implemented left much to be desired.

“The Administration recognizes that many policyholders may be challenged financially by the new rates and remains committed to working with the Congress to develop approaches that ensure economically distressed policyholders are not unduly burdened while maintaining the financial stability of the NFIP,” the statement said.

A year late and many dollars short on this issue.

As Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said, it is “completely mind-boggling” that the administration is ignoring the deficiencies of implementation of the new plan by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs NFIP. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, also noted that “how FEMA is interpreting Biggert-Waters is contributing to the unaffordability of flood insurance.”

Landrieu’s bipartisan coalition in the Senate passed a delay bill because of the U.S. government’s failings, not out of a desire to raid the Treasury. We can expect to see flood insurance rates increase, but for us in Louisiana this is not about insuring lavish beach homes. It is about ordinary people living behind levees, including many that the federal government does not recognize as providing flood protection.

If not perfect in the White House’s view, the Landrieu-backed bill is nevertheless the vehicle that could stay the worst consequences of Biggert-Waters and allow Congress and the administration to get together on an alternative that will provide a financially sustainable NFIP program into the future.