Sticker shock in the extreme. That would be understating the reaction members of Congress and their staffers exhibited as officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency briefed them Wednesday on the impact the Biggert-Waters Act will have on flood insurance premiums going forward.
The briefing, and others held for homeowners in states as far apart as Mississippi, Florida and Vermont, are generating strong reactions from both homeowners and legislators. That is so even though 405 members of the House voted for the legislation in June 2012.
For example, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who represents New Orleans, issued statements urging prompt congressional action to delay the rates after the briefing. Congress returns to work next Monday.
State officials estimate that 49% of Louisiana properties that have flood insurance pay subsidized rates.
”It took FEMA far too long to make this critical information available to communities in Louisiana and across the nation trying to prepare for the steep rate increases that are scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1,” Landrieu said.
Richmond said the briefing was “disheartening.” and “confirms what I, my colleagues, and Louisiana’s homeowners have feared for months.”
“These new rates will indeed have a crippling impact on too many of Louisiana’s homeowners,” he said.
He urged passage of legislation delaying the rate hikes. “Louisianans and homeowners all across the nation desperately need us to address the crisis of flood insurance affordability. Moving forward, I am committed to working with FEMA and members on both sides of the aisle to find a sustainable, long-term solution,” Richmond said.
The law mandated changes to the flood insurance program designed to phase out subsidies that have kept rates low for insurance on older homes built before flood maps were redrawn to make them accurately reflect financial risk.
It required actuarial rates based on risk be phased in over four years for second homes, commercial properties and those that have suffered repeated flood losses effective next year.
It also increases the annual increases most homeowners are charged from 10% to 20% a year.
FEMA officials say that homeowners who purchased a home in a high-risk area after B-W was enacted in July 2012 in most case are paying the same flood insurance rate as the previous owners. However, according to information FEMA officials provided at the briefing, homeowners will have to present an elevation certificate to their agents when they renew their policies.
In most cases, they will likely be required to pay much higher rates.
The briefing was one of several the agency has had with state officials on the guidelines Write-Your-Own Companies will use starting Oct. 1 in computing premiums homeowners and businesses will pay for flood insurance in new policies.