Letter: More flood premium relief needed

Recently, I joined with House colleagues from both parties and across the nation to write and pass the revised Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. The legislation provides long-term flood insurance relief for working families and should be supported by the U.S. Senate and the president.

The legislation is necessary because of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. While the intent of Biggert-Waters to stabilize the National Flood Insurance Program was praiseworthy, its implementation by FEMA has caused flood insurance rates to rise for thousands of Louisiana families.

Biggert-Waters empowered FEMA to move homes into flood map zones that do not always reflect the actual flood risk. Families who reside behind community-built levees are at risk of paying huge flood insurance premiums because FEMA doesn’t recognize the protection these structures provide communities. One St. Charles Parish family told me that its yearly flood premium would rise from $388 to over $23,500.

We are working aggressively in Washington to end unrealistic rate hikes. The first step was passing the Cassidy Amendment, which became law in January. The amendment delays rate hikes for thousands of Louisiana families that would see sharp increases upon a change of a flood insurance rate map within their community. Thanks to this amendment, rate hikes won’t occur until at least October 2015 or possibly not until April 2016.

But temporary relief is not enough. The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act recognizes that. It builds upon the Cassidy Amendment by completely reinstating grandfathered flood insurance rates. Families who built homes to existing code and never substantially flooded would not face the unrealistic rate hikes under Biggert-Waters. I was proud to insert this provision into the legislation.

The House bill also removes the home sale trigger. Under Biggert-Waters, if a home is sold, the new owner would face a much higher flood insurance rate. Our legislation removes that trigger, so flood insurance rates remain affordable even after the sale of a home.

Finally, the House bill caps flood insurance premium increases. FEMA can increase rates within a single risk group by up to 20 percent on average. Our bill permanently reduces the 20 percent rate increase authority to 15 percent, which is a major improvement.

This legislation helps our families and enjoys widespread, bipartisan support. It is supported by the Coalition for Sustainable Flood Insurance, more than 200 state and national stakeholder groups and several parish presidents, including Ascension President Tommy Martinez, Iberville President Mitchell Ourso and Livingston President Layton Ricks. Louisiana needs these flood insurance reforms, and I urge our senators and the president to work with the House to help this legislation become law. It’s the right thing to do for Louisiana.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy

6th District

Baton Rouge