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July 8, 2018

We know flood insurance is essential. Does Congress?

Louisiana residents whose flood insurance policies expire at the end of July are getting letters from FEMA to remind them of the importance of coverage.

The note is headed: “Your flood insurance policy is about to expire. Renew today.”

It goes on with this warning: “Did you know flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States? It can be caused by powerful storms, broken dams or natural changes in the environment. It’s always unpredictable. But if you renew your flood insurance policy, you’ll be prepared to recover if flooding hits your area this year.”

Yes, Louisianians are aware that flooding is the most common disaster we might face. But thanks for the reminder.

Maybe it would be better to remind Congress, though.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is once again about to expire, on July 31 – the same date as for the policyholders getting the letter from FEMA. In March, Congress extended the program for four months. That followed other short-term extensions last year.

This is no way to run such a vital program.

In a press release about the extension in March, FEMA said: “FEMA and Congress have never failed to honor the flood insurance contracts in place with NFIP policyholders. In the unlikely event the NFIP’s authorization lapses, FEMA would still have authority to ensure the payment of valid claims with available funds.”

But you wouldn’t be able to renew a policy or buy a new one. So, anyone in the midst of a home or business purchase or whose policy expires during a lapse in the program would be out of luck. “Nationwide, the National Association of Realtors estimates that a lapse might impact approximately 40,000 home sale closings per month,” the FEMA release said.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress don’t understand the flood insurance program’s value the way policyholders do.

That doesn’t include the Louisiana delegation, which has pushed for a long-term extension for the NFIP and for reforms to improve the program’s stability but keep it affordable.

Louisiana’s Sen. Bill Cassidy and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, introduced legislation in June 2017 to extend the flood insurance program for 10 years. Their bill maintains grandfathered rates, adds private coverage options, increases funding for flood mitigation and includes high-tech mapping to better assess risk.

Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana’s junior senator, is a cosponsor on a reform bill introduced last year by Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat. That legislation would reauthorize the flood insurance program for six years. It limits annual rate increases to 10 percent, increases investment in mitigation, includes high-tech mapping, caps compensation for companies that write flood premiums and improves the claims process.

Either bill would be a good option, but they haven’t gotten to the floor. “There’s just not the sense of urgency that I think my colleagues should have,” Sen. Kennedy said in May.

In the House, the problem isn’t just a lack of urgency. Some members, like Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling, basically don’t like the flood insurance program.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Jefferson has been able to keep the worst provisions out of House flood legislation. But Rep. Hensarling, who heads the committee charged with overseeing flood insurance, is still an obstructionist.

The NFIP does need to be reformed, but some of the opposition’s main arguments are just wrong.

“Some inaccurate narratives have taken hold and delayed progress. One of these is that NFIP is widely abused by ‘rich people for their beach homes’,” GNO Inc. president and CEO Michael Hecht said in a letter to the editor to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune last week. “The reality is quite different: 98.5 percent of all NFIP policies are in parishes or counties with a median household income below $100,000, and 62 percent of all NFIP policies are in parishes or counties with a median household income below the national average of $53,889.”

Louisiana’s coast feeds and fuels the nation. The homeowners and businesses dotting our coastline need flood insurance that is affordable — and dependable.

They shouldn’t have to worry every three or four months about whether Congress will keep the program going — especially not during the middle of hurricane season.

To read the full article click here.