By Andrew Taylor
WASHINGTON: Bipartisan legislation that would delay flood insurance premium hikes for hundreds of thousands of people living in coastal and low-lying areas cleared its first hurdle in the Senate on Monday.
The 86-13 vote demonstrated that the measure had filibuster-proof support in the chamber, which was likely to pass it in a few days.
The legislation would delay for up to four years premium increases set to phase in next year on homeowners facing whopping premium increases under new flood maps and would allow homeowners with subsidized insurance policies to pass them on to people who buy their homes.
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.
But the new rates have caused sticker shock for hundreds of thousands of people who could face big premium jumps as flood maps are updated in coming years. And the loss of subsidies when homes are sold has put a damper on the real estate market and threatened home values. Homeowners are seeing estimates that in many cases would force premium hikes of 10 times or more as their homes are judged to be at greater risk of flooding.
“It’s had a significant impact in the flood-prone areas,” said Ken Baris, a real estate agent in West Orange, N.J. “There’s lots of people who are seeing their equity being eaten up.”
But Egon Kahl, an agent on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, which was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, said the real estate market there was humming.
Other reforms, including higher premiums for frequently flooded properties and on 1.7 million second homes would remain in place.
Clearing the first Senate hurdle put the bill on track for Senate action later in the week. Its future in the House was uncertain at best. Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, opposes the Senate bill but was holding the door open to a more modest measure that would leave more of the 2012 overhaul in place.
At issue is the federal flood insurance program that was established in 1968 and has incurred big losses, most recently with Sandy in 2012. It is more than $24 billion in debt to taxpayers for losses from big storms like Sandy and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.