Congress is poised this week to address at least part of the problem with the nation's flood insurance crisis by delaying some provisions of a 2012 law in a general spending bill. But don't be fooled. In practice, it only puts into law what was expected to happen anyway this year and won't help those homeowners who have already been hit with exponentially higher premiums. What Congress still must do is delay the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 to allow time for more reasonable reform to the National Flood Insurance Program.
The language in the appropriations bill expected to be approved by the House and Senate this week would delay for a year the elimination of one of two subsidies slated to disappear under Biggert-Waters. The first subsidy — for owners of homes built before federal flood maps were drawn in about the mid-1970s — began being phased out Oct. 1 over the next five years for existing policyholders, and immediately when a home is purchased. The change has been generating headlines ever since, particularly in Tampa Bay, as some new owners faced premiums 10 times higher than what the previous owner paid. The appropriations bill will not fix those problems.
The second subsidy, called "grandfathering," applied to properties that were drawn into riskier flood zones when a flood map was redrawn. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the program, has said it didn't expect to eliminate those subsidies until the end of 2014. The appropriations bill will ensure that by placing the time frame into law, but it really just reaffirms what FEMA already planned to do.
Nonetheless, House and Senate members anxious to appear responsive to constituents' pain trumpeted the language in the appropriations bill Tuesday. But the more important task facing Florida's congressional delegation is to persuade enough colleagues to vote to approve a four-year delay in the implementation of Biggert-Waters. That would give FEMA time to build a more rational plan for returning the flood insurance program to solvency that doesn't create a crisis for homeowners in the process. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled his support for that plan Tuesday. Now House leadership needs to be convinced. It's time for Congress to clean up the mess it has made, not just put into law what was going to happen anyway.