On Tuesday, March 4, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 with a 306-91 vote, taking a step toward structural reforms for the 2012 act’s dramatically increased flood insurance rates.
The bill, H.R. 3370, was introduced in Oct. 29, 2013, and will head to the Senate with 238 cosponsors after passing Tuesday with the necessary two-thirds majority needed since the bill did not go through committee.
Annual increases are capped at 18 percent annually per property, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can still enact premium increases, ranging from 5-15 percent.
Biggert-Waters was an effort to balance the National Flood Insurance Program’s budget, estimated at $24 billion in debt.
“Mr. Speaker, because I am the Waters of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, I felt a responsibility to make sure that we deal with the concerns that were coming to us from our constituents all over this country,” said Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., introducing the bill before Tuesday’s vote. Waters’ comments are reflected in the minutes. “The rate increases were unimaginable. So Democratic lawmakers in the House and the Senate took action, spearheading bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate and garnered the support of a majority of the House of Representatives.”
Dr. Bill Sisson, a former Wrightsville Beach alderman, has actively fought against the Biggert-Waters legislation increases and encourages citizens to contact the two North Carolina Senators, Sen. Kay Hagan and Sen. Richard Burr, and ask them to pass H.R. 3370.
He said the bill includes more structural reforms, not just a four-year delay, as FEMA conducts an affordability study.
“I’m going to give the Republican side a lot of credit for this,” Sisson said. “The Democrats pretty much were behind this thing to begin with. There may have been a few who weren’t, but I know that Congressman McIntyre and Jones did yeoman’s duty with the North Carolina delegation from both parties trying to get them on board.”
The town’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) date back to the early 1970s. Properties built to code after adoption of those maps are grandfathered in, but Sisson and town manager Tim Owens were unsure as of press time if that includes primary, secondary and commercial properties or only primary, due to the recent release of the bill.
“I think it’s going in the right direction, but I don’t know if it really gets there for everybody,” Owens said.
For the most part, everything that was built below base flood should be grandfathered if it doesn’t meet code, he said.
“The thing that stayed the same was a 5 percent minimum on the rate increases that FEMA can enact in each flood class, which was to enable the premiums to rise but very, very slowly,” Sisson said. “Particularly with grandfathering reinstated and no change in pre-FIRM subsidies, it’s certainly within most people’s means to afford that.”
The bill also calls for refunds issued to those affected by increased rates from prior legislation. Property owners who fight against their flood zone designation and win would also receive refunds for the costs with the new legislation.
“There’s a real disincentive for FEMA to push classifications which don’t appear reasonable in the face of local data and that would apply to a lot of places in Wrightsville Beach,” Sisson said. “Overall I think we’re a quantum leap ahead of where we were. It certainly is a fairer shape for just about everybody. … I just want to thank all of the citizens who took the bill by the horns on this.”