Florida delegation blames FEMA for moving too fast on flood insurance rate hikes

Published Nov. 22, 2013

WASHINGTON — Feeling heat from constituents over rising flood insurance rates, Florida lawmakers on Thursday redirected some to FEMA, saying the agency has moved too fast with changes Congress approved.

"It's out of control and you're going to put a lot of people out of their houses. … How come you didn't come to members of Congress that this was a big-time problem?" said Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who convened a meeting of the Florida House delegation.

Republicans and Democrats alike said they would have never voted for the legislation, designed to shore up the $24 billion-in-debt national flood insurance program, had they known it would cause substantial increases for many Florida property owners.

David Miller, an associate administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, countered that the rate increases were outlined in the law, overwhelmingly approved and not tied to an affordability study that is incomplete. Delicately returning the finger-pointing, Miller said Congress didn't provide enough money for the study.

"I have to implement the law that Congress gave me. The law that was given to us was a removal of subsidies and going to full actuarial rates," Miller said.

FEMA noted there would be affordability issues at the time the bill was passed "and so did members of Congress," Miller testified.

"We most definitely were not fully cognizant, advised that affordability would be a challenge," retorted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.

Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, said the idea of moving away from subsidies was ideal in theory but no one expected the rates would rise so sharply. "The homes in my area, they're not million-dollar mansions," he said.

Despite growing attention to the problem, time is running out for something to happen this year. "We have eight legislative days left," said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who urged her colleagues to try to attach a fix to any bill possible.

The best hope may be legislation to delay the changes for four years that has been introduced in the House and Senate. Senators are trying to amend it onto the defense authorization bill, but it was still up in the air Thursday as the chamber adjourned until Dec. 9.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who is leading the effort, said she was hopeful that backers can persuade leaders to allow a vote on the amendment.

"We don't have the assurance yet, but we are making significant progress," she said.