Kennedy pushes flood program extension

<p>Barrett Lane on the Calcasieu River is overrun by rising water due to Tropical Storm Harvey in Westlake, Louisiana on Tuesday, August 29, 2017. </p>AP Photo/Lake Charles American Press, Kirk Meche

<p class="p1">Reforming the National Flood Insurance Program before its scheduled July 31 expiration is unrealistic, which is why U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is pushing Congress to approve a six-month extension in the meantime.

<p class="p1">During a conference call Tuesday, Kennedy, R-La., said most members of Congress understand the consequences of letting the NFIP lapse, especially in the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season. However, he said three unnamed senators “are objecting and raising their right to filibuster,” but they haven’t said which reforms they want.

<p class="p1">“To allow this program to expire would be bone-deep, down-to-the-marrow stupid,” he said. “We’ve learned the hard way in Louisiana that flood insurance is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”

<p class="p1">Kennedy said the senators’ opposition stems from wanting to get reforms done now. Congress has temporarily extended the NFIP six times in the last 12 months in an attempt to negotiate long-term reforms.

<p class="p1">“We all want reforms, but we aren’t going to get (them) done in time,” the senator said. “It’s a point I’ve tried gently, and not so gently, to make.”

<p class="p1">If Congress allows the program to expire, Kennedy said it would not affect those who are already insured. But once the policy runs out, it could not be renewed. Also, first-time homebuyers would not be able to buy flood insurance. The impact could hurt real estate, putting 1,000 to 2,000 closings at risk per day.

<p class="p1">Kennedy said he has a standalone measure that calls to extend the program for six months. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, has a separate bill that would extend the program by four months. The extension is also part of the farm bill, but Kennedy said it’s unlikely it will get out of conference committee before July 31.

<p class="p1">Kennedy said there is a misconception that only the wealthy have flood insurance. More than 98 percent of residents with flood insurance live in counties with a median income of less than $100,000 per year, while 60 percent of insured homeowners have an average income of less than $54,000, he said.

<p class="p1">“I’m tired of hearing the flood insurance program is for rich people trying to protect their beach homes,” Kennedy said.

<p class="p1">Having flood insurance is critical because 50 percent of U.S. jobs are along the coast and waterways, Kennedy said.

<p class="p1">“People have settled and have been opening businesses near water since Moby Dick was a minnow,” he said.

<p class="p1">Kennedy said most homeowners don’t have flood insurance because they can’t afford it. He said lawmakers are working on reforms to expand the coverage. 

<p class="p1">His legislation would put a 10 percent annual cap on premium increases and would reduce payments to private insurance companies that handle flood insurance claims. It would also attempt to streamline the claims process, give local officials more say in the program, and would call for using the highest mapping technology.

<p class="p1"><strong>‘We’ve learned the hard way in Louisiana that flood insurance is not a luxury; it’s a necessity.’</strong>

<p class="p3"><strong>Sen. John Kennedy</strong>

<p class="p3">R-La.

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