U.S. House to unveil own flood insurance fix

WHEELING – The House of Representatives is ready to consider a separate bill that would provide millions of homeowners relief from skyrocketing flood insurance premiums – but stop short of the outright delay of the increases approved by the Senate, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said this week.

Cantor, R-Va., said the House likely would vote on the bill during the week of Feb. 24. Specifics of the proposal are not yet known, but according to published reports, the House legislation would prevent an immediate end to subsidized rates for new policies that is making it increasingly difficult to buy or sell a home in a flood zone. Those policies would be subject to the same gradual increases as grandfathered properties where owners continue to live in their homes.

Legislation to delay National Flood Insurance Program premium increases under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2012 for four years passed the Senate 62-37 on Jan. 30. But House Republicans balked, pointing to projections that the Senate bill would add $2.1 billion in debt over 10 years to a program already almost $25 billion in the hole, mostly as a result of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“The Senate bill irresponsibly removes much needed reforms and imposes additional costs on taxpayers,” Cantor, R-Va., said. “The House will act to protect the flood insurance program but also protect homeowners from unreasonable and unrealistic premium increases.”

The Biggert-Waters bill was tacked onto broader legislation that included funding for transportation and veterans’ benefits, among other things, when it passed in July 2012. That bill passed both chambers with wide bipartisan support, including that of West Virginia’s entire congressional delegation, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Reps. Bill Johnson and Robert Gibbs, both Republicans representing eastern Ohio. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was the only area representative to vote no.

After the changes to the flood insurance program began taking effect in October, many of those who voted for it began leading the charge to have it delayed or repealed.

“House leadership has listened to our concerns and is now aware of the urgent need to resolve this problem,” Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said. “While the details of this proposal still aren’t clear, it is a promising development.”

According to McKinley, it’s possible the House plan would offer retroactive relief in the form of refunds to those who already have been hit with massive increases.

“I’m optimistic this plan will include those provisions. It’s unfair to expect homeowners to pay premiums that are 10 times higher than they expected and we need to provide relief quickly,” he said.

On Tuesday, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a joint resolution 96-0 urging Congress to “revisit and revise the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, in hopes that the unfair burden and hardship placed on West Virginia residents and businesses can be removed.” The state Senate adopted the measure by voice vote Monday.