Senate passes bill to delay flood insurance premium hikes

It’s now up to the House

U.S. homeowners with properties in flood zones gained major traction in their fight to impose a four-year delay on federal flood insurance premium hikes.

The Senate passed its own version of a highly publicized bill that aims to stall provisions of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.

Biggert Waters, which was passed to ensure the National Flood Insurance Program moves closer to solvency and sound underwriting, tried to incorporate a more risk-based approach when setting premiums for insurance offered through NFIP. 

The federal program gained favor and criticism for its willingness to provide homeowners with properties in high-risk flood zones access to affordable insurance. But many of the changes, which took effect in recent months, led to substantial backlash, prompting politicians in both parties to push for delays as homeowners reacted to sudden flood insurance rate hikes. 

When the Senate passed its version of a bill that attempts to delay the hikes, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., applauded the legislative success and encouraged the house to do the same. Her office pointed out that more than 180 members of Congress – Republican and Democrat – have signed on to support key delays, including the premium hike.

"This is a huge step providing much needed relief for our nation’s homeowners," Rep. Waters wrote after the Senate's passage of the delays. "Yet the thousands of families reeling from flood insurance hikes will see no assistance unless the House of Representatives brings this measure up for a vote."

The idea behind the House and Senate bills is to delay premium hikes until the Federal Emergency Management Agency studies affordability issues.

The measure is not only grabbing bipartisan support. Parts of the financial services community have showed a strong desire for the program’s more onerous premium hike provisions to be delayed.

"The Senate’s adoption of S. 1926, introduced by Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is a welcome development for homeowners who without this legislation would potentially face huge jumps in flood insurance premiums," said Dan Berger, CEO and president of NAFCU. "NAFCU supports a delay in implementing rate increases until such time that further study can be done to address how a reasonable flood insurance program can be sustained. We hope that this legislation can be advanced in a timely manner."

But the issue remains a contentious one, with advocates for reform pointing to the NFIP already falling $24 billion into debt.

The Government Accountability Office recently weighed in, saying, "The Biggert-Waters Act eliminates some subsidized rates, but some have proposed delaying these rate increases. Doing so could address affordability concerns, but would also delay addressing NFIP's burden on taxpayers."

The issue is now in the House's court.

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