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Queens Chronicle

The shutdown has a silver lining

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 10:30 am

Nearly a year after Broad Channel was flooded by Hurricane Sandy, it was flooded again last Saturday — this time by South Queens residents who were victims of the storm, and rightly fear they may soon become victims of the government.

At issue are the massive hikes in flood insurance premiums for areas hit by the storm, and even some that weren’t, that will be imposed by the federal government unless a law passed just a few months before Sandy struck is modified. The hundreds of people who stormed Broad Channel’s American Legion Hall last Saturday were taking part in a series of nationwide protests against the insurance hikes, which could top $12,000 a year for some residents here in Queens. It’s not that the rates are actually going up but that the government is reducing the subsidies it provides to those who have to buy coverage.

Whether and how much the federal government should subsidize mandatory flood insurance in areas that often go under water is a legitimate question worthy of debate. But Howard Beach, Broad Channel, the Rockaways and Rosedale — all or parts of which will see the insurance hikes — are not the Mississippi Delta or the flood plains surrounding Old Man River. Hurricane Sandy was unlike anything the New York region has seen since the far more deadly Long Island Express storm of 1938. And there’s no reason to believe we’ll see a repeat anytime soon — though of course anything’s possible.

But if the government wants to reduce the collective responsibility to rebuild that has been enshrined in federal law since 1968, it should give people a break and do it gradually. The City Council has unanimously passed a resolution calling on Congress to revisit the law that will force the insurance hikes, the Biggert-Waters Act, and to make several changes that we support, in order to ease the burden on storm victims who have suffered so much already.

Among its recommendations are reducing the effective insurance hikes; phasing in the increases on people whose homes were only added to the recognized flood zone after Sandy, such as those in Howard Beach and Rosedale; maintaining the subsidies until a given home is sold; and lowering premiums for those who make their houses less vulnerable to storms.

Otherwise, as South Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich warned at last Saturday’s rally, the area could see a new wave of foreclosures that would devastate the region all over again. We urge our readers to call their members of Congress and tell them to press for reform of Biggert-Waters immediately, as the increases will take effect as soon as the government fully reopens.

How ironic that there’s a silver lining in the shutdown after all.

Welcome to the discussion.