Flood Insurance Rate Relief Mired In Congress

By Josh Boatwright, Tampa Tribune, Fla.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 13--Lawmakers are making a final push this week to delay major rate increases in the National Flood Insurance Program days before Congress goes into recess for the year.

With the House wrapping up business Friday and the Senate finishing next week, legislators from both chambers sought a vote on bills that would stall premium hikes affecting thousands in Florida and across the country.

A group of senators, including Sen. Bill Nelson, tried to fast track a bill Wednesday that would delay premium hikes for four years while an affordability study is completed. That measure failed to gain the unanimous support required to get a Senate vote.

There was still hope that a similar bill introduced by Louisiana Rep. Bill Cassidy to delay rate changes until 2015 might reach the House floor before the end of today.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, who has also introduced his own legislation, said the passage of Cassidy's bill would offer relief to many of his Pinellas County constituents who have seen their rates skyrocket in some cases because of changes from the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.

"While this legislation will provide relief to many policyholders, it is only the first step in addressing the pending flood insurance rate increases for homeowners," Bilirakis said in a statement Thursday.

Bilirakis is among nearly 200 members of Congress who have either introduced legislation or supported a host of different bills aiming to stop, delay or modify the premium changes meant to bring the federal program out of more than $24 billion in debt.

The 2012 law, which began taking broad effect in October, removes so-called subsidies from older homes built before modern flood maps were drafted which have been paying rates that don't reflect their flood risk.

What has vexed lawmakers from both political parties who supported the reforms has been the dramatic and sometimes immediate premium hikes scores of homeowners across the country now face.

"We have to have this relief for our homeowners and for the real estate market," Nelson told fellow senators Wednesday.

The Senate bill championed by Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, Nelson and others was met with objections Wednesday that it had not yet been vetted by the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

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By late Thursday, members of the House remained in discussion about a bipartisan budget deal and other issues, but flood insurance had yet to reach the floor.

Should a bill pass, the Senate could still act next week to halt the rate changes.

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