House to consider flood insurance rates

Posted by Renee Schoof on February 21, 2014 

The U.S. House is scheduled to take up a bill next week that would scale back flood insurance rate increases.

The sharp increases provoked an outcry among property owners. The Senate passed a bill in January that would delay them for many homeowners for four years. But it hasn’t been clear what the House will do.

The House rejected the Senate version. Its Republican leadership is working on its own bill, but hasn’t released any details. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office wouldn’t respond to questions about it.

Cantor announced last week that the House would consider the legislation the week of Feb. 24, after its weeklong recess for Presidents Day. “The House will act to protect the flood insurance program but also protect homeowners from unreasonable and unrealistic premium increases,” he said in a statement at the time that gave no details.

But two Washington insiders who’ve been following the flood insurance issue for years told reporters on Thursday that they’re hearing word of what might be included.

Steve Ellis, a vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group, said nothing is firm yet, but he’s hearing that the legislation would slow down rate increases for second homes, commercial properties and places that have a history of severe losses from flooding.

And he said he’s heard that rate increases for properties that have been remapped into flood plains or homes that are sold could be scrapped or slowed down dramatically.

Ellis said his group would oppose those measures if they end up in the legislation. It calls for risk-based rates and eliminating taxpayer-supported subsidies.

Ellis said that the House bill is also expected to call for a surcharge on all flood insurance policies to pay for the rate reductions.

Andrew Moylan with R Street Institute, a libertarian think tank, said his organization would support a plan that slowed down rate increases for remapped properties, added a phase-in on increases when homes are sold and “targeted assistance to policyholders of modest means who face steep increases.”

But he said it would oppose a repeal of higher rates of remapped properties or homes that are sold, as well as what he called “unjustifiable relief” for vacation homes and places that are repeatedly flooded.

“That would gut a bill over 400 members of the House voted for 18 months ago,” he said.

That legislation, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, required new rates to reflect flood risks. The National Flood Insurance Program has a $24 billion deficit.

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