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Bill to Raise Flood Premiums Moves to Senate

With thousands of homeowners still recovering from the damage left by Hurricane Irene, millions more may soon face another threat — higher insurance costs.

This morning, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs voted to send legislation to the full Senate that would overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides flood insurance for roughly 5.6 million homes. The new bill calls for raising premiums by as much as 15% and would require more homeowners to sign up for the policy. No date has been set for a full Senate vote. The House of Representatives passed similar legislation in July.

The National Flood Insurance Program was created to provide insurance for homeowners, since many standard homeowners’ insurance policies do not cover flood damage. Many homeowners who live in flood-prone areas are required to buy it, with premiums running as high as nearly $6,000. But critics say that the program has become too costly to maintain without significant changes. As natural disasters mounted this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the NFIP, became increasingly cash strapped: Reserve funds that the Federal Emergency Management Agency relies on to help pay out for damages have dropped, and the program is around $18 billion in debt.

As it is, this insurance program is set to expire on Sept. 30, and as it did in previous years when it neared expiration, it’ll need Congress to approve an extension in order to continue issuing new insurance policies to new policyholders. (For now, existing policyholders are expected to remain covered regardless of the outcome.)

If Congress passes the bill, experts say higher costs for policyholders are likely on the way. The following are the provisions in the Senate committee’s bill that may prove to be most costly for homeowners:

Higher premiums: The bill would allow FEMA to increase premiums by 15% per year, up from the 10% annual cap currently in place. It could also change the way policyholders pay for this coverage, transitioning from annual premium payments to more frequent payments.

The bill would require FEMA to price in risk more heavily than it does now. “The rates would be more reflective of the risk as any insurance policy would dictate,” says a spokesman at the American Insurance Association, a public policy advocate that represents national property casualty insurers like Travelers, Chubb and the Hartford. The policyholders who could be impacted the most are those located in a so-called 100-year flood zone, an area that has a 1% annual chance of flooding — or a 26% chance over the course of a 30-year mortgage, according to FEMA. They may have to pay higher premiums, which could be phased in over four years, with 40% of the increase in the first year and another 20% for each of the next three years.

Goodbye to subsidized rates: A quarter of the roughly 5.6 million homes that have federal flood insurance coverage pay subsidized rates, and the bill seeks to put an end to many of those discounts. Instead, it’s calling for higher rates for many of these homeowners, in a wide range of properties, including non-primary residences like vacation homes, properties that have incurred severe flooding and losses and business properties. The homeowners currently paying subsidized rates do so because their homes were built before FEMA’s flood-rate maps, which identify high-risk flood areas.

More homeowners will have to sign up:  The bill also wants to expand the flood-insurance requirement to include homeowners in so-called residual risk areas, like those located behind a flood control structure like a levee or a dam. Currently, the majority of the homeowners who are required to sign up for flood insurance are those living in a 100-year flood zone. Experts say that zone could include a lot more homes if it’s updated to include the latest flood data.


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    • We were not real thrilled to recently receive a letter from our bank obligating us to purchase flood insurance. The cost would be $1200/ year (before the rate adjustment cited in this article.) We and all our neighbors are victims of a bad map and we have no recourse to recover costs. We’re shelling out a grand apiece to an engineer for LMOAs. This is not a cost that should be borne by the homeowner! It’s too time consuming to explian here, but if you could see how absurd the situation is, when our house would flood to the second floor (by their map) while homes lower than our basement door are not inside the line. It’s a maddening form of extortion. Makes the libertarians and tea partiers understandable.

    • “18 million in debt” equals higher premiums with “more frequent
      payments.” What about the “residual risk areas” for people
      that live 50 to 8o miles or more from a dam. I’m forced to pay
      flood insurance in an area that should not require flood insurance. My neighbors spent over $5,000.00 to prove that they
      didn’t live in a flood plain. I do not have $5,000.00 so I pay the premium which has risen every year. This is nothing but a money grab to pay the debt. Let us not forget the salaries of
      of the goons that put the agency in debt. No accountablity in
      any government agency. Just hit the taypayer again.
      Just estimate how much it would require for anyone that lives in
      a”so called flood plain” to clean up their property(load everything in a dump truck and haul it away)an create an account of that money. No hand outs for damages. It’s either haul the damage away or rebuild on your own. This is nothing but a scheme to pay down the debt and those home owners in so called residual risk aresa should step up and say NO.
      Note for all of you that do not live in a flood plain check out the salaries of the people that manage this agency and you will
      not complain about the people that live in the flood areas. You will see where the money is really spent that is collected for flood insurance. Also, check out the qualification of the people in the top positions.

      home owners ban together and stop that money grab.

    • Any government (taxpayer) subsidy of these insurance costs should be ended. However, I do not see a good reason to require people to buy insurance. Should people not have the freedom to use their money for another purpose that may be more important to them? The only rationale I can think of for requiring the purchase of insurance is that, if the homeowners don’t have insurance, they will ask that taxpayers pay to repair their homes if the homeowners cannot afford to do so. Taxpayers should be able to say “no” to any such request. This is another example of how we assume that government must come to people’s assistance and, as a result, thereby limit everyone’s freedom. EVERYONE — both the homeowners and also the taxpayers lose the freedom to use their money as they wish. We should stop using taxpayer money to pay for homeowner insurance, and we should stop requiring that people buy homeowner insurance.

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