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Editorial: Group of senators call for delay in new flood insurance regulations

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 5:11 PM

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators from varied regions in the country are calling for a delay in the implementation of new flood insurance regulations.

Louisiana’s two senators, Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, are polar opposites on a majority of issues, but they agree that solutions must be found to avert punitive flood insurance rate hikes on home and business owners.

They are joined by Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., in introducing legislation that will stall for as long as four years certain portions of a previous bill, known by its authors’ names, Biggert-Waters, until the Federal Emergency Management Agency completes on affordability.

Approved by Congress last year, Biggert-Waters sought to end federal subsidies for the national flood insurance program. The end result has been sticker shock for many policy holders who have seen their insurance rates skyrocket.

“There are stories of people’s (insurance) going from $500 to thousands,” said Calcasieu Parish Police Juror Dennis Scott, who recently attended a meeting of the Louisiana Joint Insurance Committee.

That has resonated in Washington, D.C.

“Adversely affected homeowners will include senior citizens on fixed incomes who have lived in the same homes for decades, homeowners who purchased or built their homes before Flood Insurance Rate Maps existed, and others who played by the rules, elevated their homes when maps were released decades ago, only to find that they need to elevate yet again when FEMA redraws their maps,” the senators wrote in a letter to their colleagues. “For some Americans, these premium rate hikes will force them out of their homes and could even erode entire neighborhoods or communities.”

Even U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, one of the co-authors of the onerous bill, has suggested that relief must be found for property owners facing a staggering increase in flood insurance premiums.

“It buys the time to change and modify things so we get it right,” said Landrieu. “It’s delaying the pieces that are most important to be delayed because they really violate the principles of affordability.”

Said Vitter: “Without a change, flood insurance is simply going to be unaffordable for middle class families. Homeowners will literally have to turn in their keys and in some cases walk away from their homes. In coastal Louisiana, we’re on the tip of the spear and we’re experiencing this first. But this is not just a Louisiana issue — it’s going to affect folks across the country.”

The new legislation would delay rate increase implementation until two years after FEMA completes an affordability study or until it has adopted a “modernized risk-based approach to analyzing flood risk for ... primary, non-repetitive loss residences that are currently grandfathered in: all properties sold after July 6, 2012; (and) all properties that purchased a new policy after July 6, 2012.”

It’s estimated that it will take two years for FEMA to complete the affordability study and two more years for Congress to review it.

Landrieu is even asking homeowners in Louisiana to email a photo of their homes to MyHomeMyStory@Landrieu.Senate.gov or tweeting a photo of your home with the hashtag #MyHomeMyStory @SenLandrieu to counter the notion that the property in question is either beachfront or contains a million-dollar home.

Landrieu and Vitter deserve credit for spearheading this fight on an issue that could have dire consequences for property owners in Louisiana and the state’s economy.

  • • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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