Flood insurance delay awaits House action

by Sam Wilson
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives are attempting to advance a legislative four-year delay for certain increases in flood insurance rates, for which no action has been taken since the bill’s introduction Nov. 29, 2013.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, or H.R. 3370, is identical to a bill passed Jan. 30 in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 67-32. If it passes the House and is signed into law, the bill would compel the Federal Emergency Management Agency to complete an affordability study before increasing premiums under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. The affordability study is expected to delay implementation of Biggert-Waters for up to four years.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act would delay implementation of rate hikes for all properties built to code after Federal Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) were adopted (post-FIRM).

Wrightsville Beach town manager Tim Owens said Feb. 6 the changes would be a welcome respite for many property owners on Wrightsville Beach.

“It would be huge,” Owens said. “There are a good number of businesses and second homes on Wrightsville Beach that are post-FIRM.”

For those built before the rate maps were adopted (pre-FIRM), only primary homes would retain their subsidized rates for the next four years. However, once the property is sold the new owner will be forced to pay the full, unsubsidized rate.

For pre-FIRM businesses and second homes, the same point-of-sale rate change applies, but otherwise policy holders would see their premiums increase by 25 percent of the actuarial rate annually until that rate is reached.

Parliamentary maneuvering by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 4, 5 and 11 failed to bring the bill to the floor of the house. In a Feb. 4 interview, Wrightsville Beach resident and former alderman Bill Sisson said he expected it was a strategy to put more pressure on undecided members of Congress.

“My hunch is that they wanted to get some of the fence-sitters to make their position known, so if their constituents wanted to get in touch with them, then they would find out that their member had not been supportive of legislation that would make their lives somewhat better,” Sisson said.

“I think it was a way of demonstrating to the House leadership especially that this is important, and is not going to go away.”

During a floor debate Feb. 4, House Democrats attempted to use a procedural motion, called a motion to strike the previous question, which would have interrupted the scheduled proceedings and allowed them to bring the new flood insurance bill to the floor for discussion. 

However, the vote fell almost strictly by party lines, with Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., whose district includes the north and central coast, along with some inland portions of New Hanover County, the lone Republican breaking ranks.

Additional attempts to bring the bill up for discussion Feb. 6 and Feb. 11 were also blocked, and similarly fell mostly along party lines.

The bill had 199 cosponsors in the House, including 58 Republicans, as of Feb. 11, up from 181 cosponsors a week before.

Some municipalities in the country have contested the maps themselves through an appeals process to FEMA. But while he didn’t rule anything out, Owens said that option could prove costly for the town to pursue. 

“You would spend a lot of money trying to appeal these things, so you had better know you’re right. There are all kinds of modeling that go into it,” he said. “It’s a daunting task.”

email sam@luminanews.com


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