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Romano: Flood insurance rates still going up? Um, thanks?

Heavy rain from Hurricane Hermine caused flooding in west Pasco County in 2016. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Heavy rain from Hurricane Hermine caused flooding in west Pasco County in 2016. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Nov. 16, 2017

Bless their scheming little hearts, they tried.

The folks in the U.S. House of Representatives got together and crunched numbers, weighed data, negotiated differences and came up with a flood insurance plan that hardly anyone likes.

And that includes some of the people who voted for it.

That's more of an observation than actual criticism. Because, heaven knows, flood insurance is not easily solved. Not when it is perceived to be too generous and, simultaneously, too expensive.

So how should you feel about the new House plan?

Well, it's not a complete disaster. It has long-range ideas that could be worthwhile. And it will not cause premiums to immediately skyrocket. It would also reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program, which must be done by Dec. 8 or it will expire and create true chaos.

On the other hand, the House plan mostly tinkers when a revamp is necessary. And, ultimately, that means coastal areas such as Tampa Bay will still be on the hook when Florida is already disproportionately paying.

"It would not be a good thing for St. Petersburg,'' said Noah Taylor, the city's flood insurance expert.

Much of Taylor's concerns are echoed by the Association of State Floodplain Managers, who basically spend all their time worrying about exactly this kind of wonky legislation.

"It does little to correct important deficiencies in the NFIP, and impairs the program's ability to function as the nation's primary comprehensive flood-risk management program,'' the association's director wrote in a letter to Congress last week.

The goals of the House bill are admirable. The idea is to incentivize communities to take more interest in fixing floods before the storms ever hit. The bill also tries to entice private insurers, and it seeks to move repetitive-loss homes off the NFIP rolls.

Nothing wrong with any of that.

"What we're looking at are two things: How do you decrease exposure to taxpayers from flood events and how do you protect and enhance the resiliency of communities on the water,'' said Laura Lightbody, who directs the Pew Charitable Trusts' flood-prepared communities initiative. "There are some things in (the bill) we like, and some things that will need some work.''

The House plan also continues to subsidize houses that were built before flood maps were created, as well as homes that may have seen their house rezoned over the years.

But those houses will also see their rates continue to increase, by as much as 15 percent per year, until they are actuarially sound. More fees and assessments will now also be added to bills.

The problem around here is that the NFIP has never been forthcoming about how it calculates rates. And considering Florida has paid four times as much in premiums as it has received in payouts for the past 35 years, it's hard to justify rates that continually go up as actuarially sound.

The House bill passed mostly along partisan lines, although three South Florida Republicans voted against it. Locally, Democrats Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist voted no while Pinellas-Pasco Republican Gus Bilirakis voted in favor, saying the bill was flawed but still a step forward.

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The Senate does not seem enthusiastic about the bill so now we wait for its plan.

Meanwhile, we continue to pay. And occasionally pray.


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