The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

January 18, 2014

State lawmakers following federal flood insurance issue

SUNBURY — As the federal government takes some small steps toward reforming the controversial Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, state lawmakers are also preparing to look at the issue.

Jan. 28, state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, will be among the members of the Environmental Resources & Energy and Banking & Insurance committees to attend an information session on flood insurance in Harrisburg Jan. 28.

“Some areas of the state have not been impacted by this yet, so part of it is information and making people aware of what’s going on,” he said. “A lot of the factors that brought this to a head have coalesced in this area.”

Biggert-Waters is a federal law and flood insurance is a federal program, so Yaw said it is not clear what, if anything, state lawmakers can do legislatively, but that is something that is being looked at, Yaw said.

“We need to know what the nature of the problem is in order to take a look at it from a state’s perspective,” he said. “My goal is to look at the background and what caused (the problems).”

The issues with the new flood insurance program are a problem which will have a major impact on the state, Yaw said.

“This is an issue that literally affects every county in the state,” he said.

The federal government this week took some small steps toward delaying some of the premium hikes temporarily, while lawmakers debate more permanent fixes. The fix was in a provision attached to the $1.1 trillion spending bill passed Wednesday.

The practical effect of the Cassidy-Landrieu provision - named for sponsors Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu and GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy, both of Louisiana- is relatively limited and can be added to the spending bill only because it does not increase the budget deficit. It effectively blocks through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year the ability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prepare for scheduled premium increases on people whose homes are not currently considered to be in a flood zone but are deemed to be flood prone under new FEMA maps.

Those map-related premium increases aren’t scheduled to take effect until October anyway; the provision would likely mean a modest additional delay.

The broader bill that will be debated later this month in the Senate would effectively delay the 2012 reforms for four years, a step that critics say guts them because the 2012 law expires in 2017.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA, issued a statement earlier this week advocated for the passage of the broader bill.

In the last few years Northeastern Pennsylvania has dealt with severe flooding that has battered homes and strained the finances of families,” Casey said. “We can’t let these same homeowners who have dealt with the challenges of severe flooding be hit with massing rate hikes on their flood insurance bills.”

The Office of U.S. Representative Marino issued a statement on the Cassidy-Landrieu provision Friday and how it will affect homeowners.

“Language included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act delayed only the phasing out of grandfathered rates,” the statement reads. “This language offers a temporary delay only to policyholders who were participating in NFIP before Biggert-Waters was implemented and whose premiums rates were grandfathered as a result of remapping.  Properties that allow their NFIP policies to lapse or are sold to new owners would no longer be subject to Section 207 and would see an immediate increase in flood insurance premium rates.

“Unfortunately, this new provision does not help people who bought or sold homes after July 2012, when Biggert-Waters went into effect, nor does it help policyholders whose properties or businesses are classified as ‘severe repetitive loss properties.’”

Landrieu told the New Orleans Time-Picayune that the measure is definitely not a permanent fix.

“We still have work to do,” she said.

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