TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sept. 26, 2013 – It’s been a busy week for those seeking to stem the tide of the flood insurance debacle.
As many Florida property owners brace for higher flood insurance premiums starting next Tuesday, Oct. 1, legislators from Florida and other coastal states worked overtime to convince Congress to hit the pause button on implementation of the federal Biggert-Waters Act passed last year.
On Tuesday morning, Florida Realtors President Dean Asher testified before the Florida Cabinet about the devastating impact significantly higher flood insurance premiums would have on the state’s real estate market.
Hours later, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) attempted to delay the flood rate increases for one year by adding an amendment to an existing bill that’s working its way through the Senate.
Nelson attached the flood insurance amendment to a controversial short-term appropriations bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week to keep the government operating until Dec. 15. While several bills to stall flood insurance increases are slated to go before the Senate, Nelson’s amendment will likely get a vote soon since Congress must work out a budget, according to his press secretary, Ryan Brown.
Nelson also wrote a letter Tuesday to Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater asking for them to lobby Congressional Republicans to pass the measure.
On the House side, Florida’s Congressional delegation signed onto a letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi asking that an amendment delaying the flood insurance rate increases be attached to any federal legislation that’s in play.
“While we continue to work toward a comprehensive legislative solution,” the letter says, “it is imperative to secure temporary relief for the millions of homeowners and small businesses susceptible to steep rate increases across the country.”
Closer to home, the Florida House Insurance and Banking subcommittee yesterday considered a number of options to help homeowners. The proposals range from lifting state laws and regulations to attracting more private insurance companies into the market, and even to setting up a state-backed agency – similar to the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe (CAT) Fund – to back coverage.
Many Floridians receive federal subsidies for the federal flood program, but according to Florida House subcommittee chairman Bryan Nelson (R-Apopka), the state collectively pays almost four times as much into the program as it receives in return – $4 for every $1 that has come back to Florida.
“We want to look at anything, we just need to take care of the citizens of Florida,” Rep. Nelson said. “The easiest and quickest would be for (Congress to delay the law’s implementation) and give us some options.”
“In addition to asking Congress to delay implementation of the devastating provisions of Biggert-Waters, Florida Realtors’ leaders feel strongly that we also need to look at more state-based solutions,” says John Sebree, senior vice president of public policy for Florida Realtors. “At a minimum, Florida Realtors is requesting that the Florida Division of Emergency Management quantify the number of affected homes and businesses by these rate increases – by county and community – as soon as possible. We also request that the division clarify the re-mapping process for each community in the state and put these maps online.”
Florida Realtors plans to explore the feasibility of the state opting out of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
“Florida has paid over $16 billion in premiums to the NFIP since 1978, but the program has paid out only about $4 billion in claims here,” says Sebree. “Instead of floating the rest of the country, we might be able to rely on the NFIP for mapping and such, and process premiums and payments through a state CAT fund for flood insurance. It’s definitely something to think about.”
© 2013 Florida Realtors®