WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday that he will back a bill to delay steep rate increases under a flood insurance reform law, but added that some reforms are needed.
Rubio has said he opposes the hikes, which have caused alarm across Florida, but he has not been a visible member of a coalition working on the legislation.
Supporters of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which would put off increases for four years while affordability is studied, are looking for a vote next week.
"Clearly we have to prevent these disruptive increases," Rubio said in an interview with Florida reporters at his Washington office. He cited a case in which the annual insurance bill for a homeowner in the Keys went from just under $2,000 to $49,000.
Rubio also noted that the bill being considered could add $2 billion in debt to the National Flood Insurance Program, already $24 billion in the hole, largely due to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
"Let me be clear, I'll vote for this bill … because I think it's important to prevent these rate increases from going forward. But I would like to find some long-term certainty," Rubio said.
"Obviously, if the only choice before us is to just prevent the increases, we'll do it. But we've been working with other offices about using this as an opportunity to put in place reforms that create some long-term certainty about the program."
Rubio noted that Florida, which has more flood insurance policies than any other state, pays in more to the program than it takes out and that local communities, such as West Miami, have taken their own steps to mitigate flood risk.
"We need to look at the equities of that as well," Rubio said, suggesting that other states that are part of the risk pool should step up. "I'm not sure that — in a bill like this — trying to put in together all these other states might be the right vehicle for it. But that's something we'll explore."
Despite the clamor for relief in Florida, Louisiana and other flood-prone states, the opponents to the bill, which rolls back reforms to the flood program under a 2012 act known as Biggert-Waters, have begun to mobilize. A coalition called SmarterSafer.org this week blasted a wholesale delay of the rate increases, saying targeted relief is more acceptable.
"What we're seeing with this legislation is an overreaction that would essentially eliminate or erase nearly all of the reforms that were put into place," Jimi Grande, an official with the lobbying group National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said in a conference call with reporters.
Private insurers have an interest in eliminating the subsidies because they want to offer coverage to homeowners.
Rubio said he was encouraged by a bill in the Florida Legislature that seeks to create a private alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program.