The U.S. Senate voted 86-13 on Monday, Jan. 27 to move forward and debate the bipartisan Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HFIA) sponsored by U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La. and supported by 31 bipartisan, geographically diverse senators. A vote to end debate and another to pass the bill are expected in the next few days.
Specifically, this legislation will delay the most aggressive rate increases until FEMA understands how they will impact individual policyholders and the program at large. It also requires FEMA to certify that their flood maps are accurate and ensures that local levees and other flood control structures are treated fairly in the mapping process. Other provisions include reimbursement to qualifying homeowners for successful map appeals and the establishment of a Flood Insurance Advocate within FEMA to aid and assist policyholders.
A House companion bill was also introduced by Representatives Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and has 181 bipartisan cosponsors from across the country.
The legislation will:
1. Delay implementation of flood insurance rate increases and protects NFIP policyholders who have no annual cap on their rate increases and have seen their property values plummet as a direct result of Biggert-Waters. This includes all homes and businesses that were built to code and later remapped into a higher risk area and all properties that were built before flood maps were released which could see their rates skyrocket overnight when they try to sell their property.
2. Provide targeted rate relief to these policyholders until FEMA certifies that their maps are accurate and reliable, and Congress has an opportunity to review and take action on the draft affordability framework FEMA will develop using the findings of the study mandated by Biggert-Waters.
3. Provide funds to reimburse homeowners for successful map appeals: Allows FEMA to utilize NFIP to reimburse policyholders who successfully appeal a map determination. FEMA currently has the authority to reimburse eligible expenses related to surveyors, engineers or similar services, but Congress has not appropriated funding for this account.
4. Eliminate penalties on communities self-financing flood protection: FEMA's AR and A99 flood zone categories provide more affordable flood insurance to qualifying communities in the process of levee construction, reconstruction, and improvements. Current regulations require a certain level of federal funding to qualify for either an A99 or an AR designation and prevent FEMA from giving communities fair credit for improvements made to existing flood control systems. Proactive communities that are actively investing in mitigation should not be penalized for self-financing flood protection projects.
5. Protect the basement exception that allows the lowest proofed opening in a home to be used for determining flood insurance rates. This impacts 54 communities nation-wide where basements are necessary to protect homeowners and businesses from extreme weather.
6. Establish a Flood Insurance Rate Map Advocate within FEMA to answer current and prospective policyholder questions about the flood mapping process. The Rate Map Advocate will be responsible for educating policyholders about their individual flood risks, assisting property owners through the map appeals process, and improve outreach and coordination with local officials and community leaders.
-Source: Office of Mary Landrieu, U.S. Senator for Louisiana