It is not perfect, and it is far from ideal for Florida's real estate market. But the bipartisan flood insurance fix passed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday is far preferable to the status quo, provides temporary relief for thousands of Tampa Bay homeowners and should be approved by the House. It's the least members of Congress can do after passing flood insurance "reforms" in 2012 with no understanding of the unreasonable financial pain they would inflict on middle-class neighborhoods.
The Senate bill, approved by a 67-32 vote, would delay for up to four years for homeowners the new flood insurance rates that took effect Oct. 1. The new rates under the 2012 Biggert-Waters law were aimed at eliminating the subsidies on policies for older homes built before federal flood maps were drawn. But the new rates are far too high, and the Senate bill would provide time for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to do an affordability study, fine-tune its mapping and address other questions about how the agency determined actuarially sound rates that were required under the 2012 law. It also would forestall another round of subsidy elimination scheduled for this year for so-called "grandfathered" rates, which are applied when a property is drawn into a higher-risk flood zone.
Unfortunately for Florida, the Senate bill does not delay the higher Biggert-Water rates for non-homeowner-occupied properties. That means anyone buying older or "grandfathered" homes in flood-zone areas as an investment property or second home would still pay higher rates. That will ultimately drive away buyers for properties in some Florida neighborhoods.
But the bill would help homeowners who bought an older home after the law's July 1, 2012, effective date but before the impact was widely understood. In Pinellas County, home to more subsidized policies than anywhere in the country, new owners are being charged up to 10 times more for flood insurance than previous owners. Those soaring rates have stalled property sales in many older, low-lying neighborhoods.
The National Flood Insurance Program, buried in $24 billion of debt after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, needs reform. But in addressing one financial crisis, Congress created thousands more for middle-class Americans and their communities. In Pinellas County, for example, the median value of homes affected by the law is just $132,000. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, initially reticent to the Senate plan, came to appreciate that Floridians need relief and joined Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson on Thursday in voting for the bill.
Now seven House Republicans from Florida need to make clear that they support immediate relief for homeowners and join their colleagues in pressuring House Speaker John Boehner to act. Reps. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville, Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, John Mica of Winter Park, Bill Posey of Rockledge and Daniel Webster of Orlando have not signed on as co-sponsors to a similar House plan. They express concerns with various provisions. But they have not offered an alternative that will immediately help Floridians coping with the problem Congress created. They should not let perfect be the enemy of good enough.