On flood insurance, Louisiana delegation splits 3-3 in House vote
The U.S. House has voted 237-189, with the Louisiana delegation splitting 3-3, to approve legislation that will increase flood insurance costs for many property owners but also will help sustain a National Flood Insurance Program battered by payouts for a series of expensive storms in the past 17 years.
The vote came Tuesday (Nov. 14) after sponsors altered it for some lawmakers who complained an earlier version would have made for even greater premium hikes --- or made some property owners ineligible for insurance.
Congress has been talking for years about a comprehensive overhaul of the program, which in October needed a $16 billion bailout to continue paying claims for 2017 hurricanes. Because private insurers generally won't write flood policies, the federal program is the only one available for most property owners.
Behind the scenes, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Republican chairman of the Financial Services Committee, negotiated with Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Old Jefferson, on a compromise. The final legislation removed a provision that would have prohibited the program from insuring newly constructed structures after 2021 as well as a provision prohibiting insurance for houses with replacement values exceeding $1 million.
The lawmakers also agreed that the program would account for frequently flooded properties by increasing premium rates based on future flood claims rather than on past flood claims.
"This bill is important. It has really good reforms for taxpayers. It gives real certainty to policyholders," said Scalise, whose congressional district covers much of New Orleans' suburbs and was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Opposition largely came from Democrats. Still, how lawmakers viewed the bill often had more to do with regional differences than political party.
Here's how Louisiana's delegation voted:
1st District Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Old Jefferson -- For.
2nd District Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans -- Against. "Simply put, this bill is bad for the people of Louisiana. My constituents aren't living in mansions; they're working people living in the same cities they grew up in, close to their jobs and families. So the cost of flood insurance matters a lot. The surcharge and premium increases that would result from this bill would be devastating for the people I represent. Additionally, tying removal of a property from the program to a home's replacement cost puts the communities I represent at risk of a foreclosure crisis."
3rd District Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre -- For.
4th District Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City -- For.
5th District Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto -- Against. "The bottom line is that too many Louisiana residents are being told to pay flood insurance rates that just aren't affordable. This bill pays for the program on the backs of those who have played by the rules without making strong enough reforms to increase participation and mitigate flood risk. Meanwhile, FEMA just announced an expensive rate hike. I agree that we need a long-term reauthorization of the NFIP that is fair and equitable, but this doesn't go far enough for the people of Louisiana."
6th District Rep. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge -- Against. He called the higher premiums a tax increase. "You can't charge people for things over which they have no control over. You can't charge people whenever they stepped up and did exactly what the government told them to do when they built a home or built a business," Graves said.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, said the legislation "addresses the growing and costly drain of repeatedly flooded properties on the NFIP. Historically representing just about 1 percent of policyholders but roughly 25 to 30 percent of the program's claims, the number of these properties has been growing and may continue to increase as lower-risk property owners opt for private flood insurance."
"The bill would also require property sellers and leasers to disclose flood history and risk, and for the first time would enable the federal government to deny coverage to the riskiest and costliest properties," said Laura Lightbody, flood-prepared communities project director for Pew. Further, she said, the bill would:
- mandate that communities with 50 or more repeatedly flooded properties implement improved floodplain management and mitigation to limit the growth of such properties. Of the nearly 22,000 communities participating in the NFIP, only about 700 -- in 35 states and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands -- would be required to take these additional actions. Some are already doing so through their participation in the program's community rating system.
- require states to enact disclosure laws by Sept. 30, 2022, mandating that property sellers and lessors disclose prior flood damage and insurance claims, any designation as a repetitive loss property and any obligation to carry flood insurance associated with previous disaster assistance. A national requirement would ensure that prospective buyers and renters know whether a property has flooded or is at risk of flooding, and would enable them to factor the cost of insurance or mitigation into their purchase.
- allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the NFIP, to deny coverage to owners of extreme loss properties who refuse offers of mitigation assistance and to owners of properties that accrue new claim payments in excess of three times the replacement value of the structure.
SmarterSafer.org, which described itself as a "national coalition of taxpayer advocates, environmental groups, insurance interests, housing organizations and mitigation advocates," applauded the House.
"This year's historic hurricane season has pushed the nation's debt-ridden flood insurance program past the point of bankruptcy once again, so we applaud the House for passing a legislative package that reforms the NFIP to ensure the program is financially sustainable for the future," the group said. "Putting these reforms into place will help Americans reduce damage from future storms while ensuring that the federal program remains viable for years to come."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Drew Broach covers Jefferson Parish politics and Louisiana interests in Congress, plus other odds and ends, for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook: Drew Broach TP. Twitter: drewbroach1. Google+: Drew Broach.