Pinellas County and the rest of the nation is looking to Congress to stop the harmful effects of flood insurance reform.
Pinellas County residents received a glimmer of hope Thursday that at least some relief may be coming to combat the unintended consequences of reform on the National Flood Insurance Program.
The U.S. Senate approved by a vote of 67-32 legislation proposed by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson Jan. 30. According to a press release from Nelson’s office, the bill will delay many of the flood insurance rate increases for four years, during which time FEMA would be required to study the affordability of the policies and re-evaluate the accuracy of new flood maps.
Pinellas has been described as “ground zero” due to the number of properties affected by sky-high flood insurance rate hikes due the affects from the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. Horror stories of rates increases have been frequent for months. The real estate industry is reeling. Government officials are concerned that property values could plummet.
Pinellas County Commissioner Chair Karen Seel recently took a trip to Washington D.C. to try to get federal lawmakers to understand the problems flood insurance reform was causing local residents.
“We are finally coming to the point at which we can grant homeowners and businesses some relief from the huge, gargantuan – sometimes tenfold – increases in flood insurance premiums,” Nelson said in a press release.
Nelson and fellow Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu from Louisiana took the lead in asking for a rate-hike delay. Congress provided some relief for some of the affected homeowners when it passed the $1.1 trillion government-funding bill in December, Nelson said.
The bill prevents the government from spending money this fiscal year to enforce higher premiums on homeowners due to the new flood maps. It also gives FEMA 60 days to provide Congress with a report on ways to keep rates more affordable.
But the budget bill’s requirements were only a partial solution, Nelson said. Legislation passed Jan. 30 attempts to provide greater relief.
Nelson pointed out that the measure passed by the Senate still must pass the House where tea party members have said they intend to defeat it.
Gov. Rick Scott applauded the Senate’s action and released a statement Thursday evening.
“I would like to thank the bi-partisan coalition of members in the U.S. Senate for their leadership and support on passing legislation to delay increases in flood insurance premiums for Floridians,” Scott said. “Florida has clearly been a donor state to the National Florida Insurance Program by contributing $16 billion over the last three decades, which is nearly four times the amount that Florida homeowners have received back in claims.
“This legislation, while not perfect, will provide relief to Florida families who have been disproportionally targeted by these unfair federal flood insurance rates hikes. I encourage their colleagues in the House to also support this commonsense measure.”
The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber, which has been very active in efforts to get relief from the negative effects of flood insurance reform, sent out an update after the Senate vote.
“It will be a challenge to get it passed by the U.S. House and signed by the President,” the email said. “Both House Speaker (John) Boehner and the President Obama have made it clear that they do not support a delay.”
In addition, none of the proposed relief measures applies to commercial property.