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Senators make final push for vote to delay flood insurance bill

Senators make final push for vote to delay flood insurance bill

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is expected to take a vote in the coming days on whether to consider legislation that would delay steep hikes in flood insurance premiums.

The vote was originally anticipated for last Wednesday but the Senate is still dealing with an extension of federal unemployment benefits, delaying consideration of the flood bill.

Flood insurance is the next item on the agenda and a vote is expected soon, according to Senate aides.

The procedural vote will determine whether the Senate will proceed with debate on the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. Sixty votes are required to move the measure to the floor for a “yes-no” vote.

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a major advocate for the bill, said she's confident there are enough votes to pass it.

The Act, proposed by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would block a major increase in flood insurance rates offered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

"There isn't a state in the country that isn't going to be affected," Sen. Menendez said at a news conference. "This is not a coastal issue. Every state suffers from floods. People who were paying $800 or $1,000 are now talking about paying $10,000," Menendez said of his storm-stricken constituents in New Jersey. "That's simply unsustainable for them."

The Senate bill would postpone for four years some of the rate hikes that are beginning to hit primary residences. It would also delay increases for properties sold after July 6, 2012, the start date of the Biggert-Waters act.

On October 1, 2013, over four million home and business owners in the United States saw their flood insurance skyrocket because of faulty provisions in the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. While there is consensus for the long-term reauthorization of the NFIP, serious concerns remain about the sharp rate increases included in Biggert-Waters that could render flood insurance unaffordable and unattainable for millions of people nationwide.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers said they've received hundreds of complaints from policyholders whose rates have increased since Oct. 1.

The rate increases were created under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 in an attempt to put the program on stable fiscal footing. The program has doled out billions of dollars in claims since its inception in 1968.

“The upcoming vote is an opportunity to fix the flaws in Biggert-Waters that threaten the very foundation of home ownership," said Sen. Landrieu in a press release. "This is not just a fight for affordable flood insurance. It is a fight for our culture, a treasured way of life and continued economic growth.  The 450 counties and parishes located directly on open ocean, the Great Lakes and major floodplains contributed more than $8.3 trillion to the nation's Gross Domestic Product, and we need people to live where they work to keep our economy growing." 

Parish presidents from Louisiana, including Charlotte Randolph of Lafourche, participated in the press conference and stressed the importance for an affirmative vote.

"We are fortunate in Lafourche Parish to be experiencing an excellent, growing economy, with very low unemployment. We are poised to experience a prosperous future. Barring any natural disasters, the passage of the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act will solidify this forecast and allow us to continue to be a major part of the American economy. Failure devastates us."

“Without a change, flood insurance is simply going to be unaffordable for middle class families,” said Senator David Vitter, R-La. “Homeowners will literally have to turn in their keys and in some cases walk away from their homes. In coastal Louisiana, we’re on the tip of the spear and we’re experiencing this first. But this is not just a Louisiana issue – it’s going to affect folks across the country.”

Vitter has demanded that FEMA rescind their flood maps in Southeast Louisiana until their mapping issues are resolved. Currently FEMA doesn't credit non-federal levees when determining flood risk.