The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 30, 2014

U.S. Senate votes to delay flood insurance premium hikes

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania’s senators split their votes today as the Senate passed legislation which would delay flood insurance premium increases for many flood insurance policyholders affected by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.

The bill, which passed 67 to 32 with Sen. Bob Casey voting “yes” and Sen. Pat Toomey voting “no,” will delay the premium hikes for four years, “and require FEMA to complete an affordability study, propose real solutions to address

affordability issues, and certify that their mapping process is accurate before any flood insurance premiums can be raised in the future,” according to bill sponsor Robert Menendez.

The bill would also push the reforms back beyond the law’s 2017 renewal date.

Toomey had proposed an amendment to the bill which would phase in rate increases for homeowners, never allowing premiums to rise by more than 25 percent of what the homeowner was paying in the previous year.

“Slower phase-ins provide the opportunity for affected homeowners in our commonwealth and across the country to prepare for the future cost of flood insurance,” Toomey said in a conference call Wednesday.

However, that amendment was defeated 64 to 35 Thursday. Representatives for Toomey said the senator had no further comment Thursday.

Casey lauded the bills passage in a statement.

“I am pleased that the Senate has passed this bipartisan legislation which will give certainty to over 30,000 homeowners across Pennsylvania,” he said. “In the last few years, families across the Commonwealth have dealt with flooding that has battered homes and strained finances. Homeowners who have faced the challenges of flood damage will now have some peace of mind that this legislation will prevent sudden drastic rate hikes.”

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where its future is uncertain, with House Speaker John Boehner reportedly telling the Associated Press Jan. 16 that the House will not take up the bill.

The Obama Administration has also expressed concern about the bill, which was created to fix a system which is more than $25 million in debt.

The higher premiums were the result of changes made to the federal flood insurance program less than two years ago - widely praised as long-overdue reforms of the program - that were designed to make it more financially stable and bring insurance rates more in line with the real risk of flooding.

Toomey said the unrealistic chances of the bill becoming law is part of the reason he could not support it.

“This approach is not going to become law,” Toomey said while speaking on the Senate floor Thursday. “The administration does not accept this approach ... The speaker of the house feels the same way ... So if you really want to do something you’ve got to support a program and approach that actually works.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report