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Queens Chronicle

House passes bill to delay flood rate hikes

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Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 6:06 pm | Updated: 11:39 am, Thu Mar 13, 2014.

The House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that would roll back the flood insurance rate hikes caused when legislation passed two years ago removed some subsidies that aim to make premiums more affordable.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 passed by a wide margin — a vote of 306-91. All of New York City’s representatives voted for the bill. 

The proposal would roll back many of the reforms passed under the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, which eliminated some subsidies that made flood insurance more affordable. That law, enacted as part of an appropriations bill, aimed to bring the National Flood Insurance Program back from the brink of bankruptcy. The program is $24 million in debt. 

Biggert-Waters was passed just months before Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast. Since the storm, FEMA has proposed expanding its flood zones to include many areas that were not originally mandated to buy flood insurance, including most of the Rockaway Peninsula, Long Island City and Howard Beach. Residents living in flood zones have seen a massive hike in flood insurance rates due to the Biggerts-Waters Act, which took effect last Oct. 1, from an average of several hundred dollars a year to, in some cases, as high as $12,000 annually.

In Howard Beach specifically, most residents did not need to have flood insurance before Sandy unless they had a mortgage. Under new maps proposed by FEMA, nearly all residents would require flood insurance.

The issue galvanized residents who feared rising rates would devastate coastal neighborhoods. More than 1,000 southern Queens residents attended a rally in Broad Channel in September demanding Congress roll back the reforms under Biggert-Waters. 

If it becomes law, the legislation would impose a four-year delay on premium hikes for some homeowners. FEMA would have that time to conduct and complete a study on making the increased rates affordable.

“With this bill, we add certainty to homeowners who are struggling to recover from the economic crisis,” said Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica). “This bill provides solutions for homeowners who have seen excessive rate increases. The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act is a positive sign that the House of Representatives can work in a bipartisan fashion to solve the problems facing American families.”

"While improving the financial viability of the national flood insurance program remains an important objective, we cannot allow skyrocketing flood insurance rates to price people out of their homes," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn, Queens). "This bill strikes an appropriate balance, and I urge the Senate to move swiftly to reach consensus on legislation that can be signed into law by the President."

Opponents of the bill argue it would bankrupt the flood insurance program and leave coastal residents without any protection from the costs of flood damage. Homeowners insurance does not cover damage caused by flood. 

The legislation would not repeal Biggert-Waters, which even supporters of the bill passed yesterday argue is necessary to keep the NFIP sustainable, but would alter the way FEMA has implemented it. For example, the original law called for an affordability study, but it was not necessarily mandated before hiking rates. The new bill would delay any rate hike until after the study is done. 

The bill now goes to the Senate — which passed a different version of the bill in January. There is a bipartisan coalition of Senators supporting the bill and supporters suspect it could reach the 60-vote threshold needed to prevent a filibuster from opponents, should they choose to force one. Upon Senate passage, it would go to President Obama’s desk. Supporters expect the president will sign it, though he’s made no public statements on it.

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