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Sen. Landrieu will push House-passed measure delaying some flood insurance hikes
Jul 01, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Friday she will work with members of her Senate Appropriations subcommittee to add House-passed language that would block FEMA from using its 2014 budget to implement higher flood insurance premiums that local officials say will devastate some home and business owners.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, her GOP Senate opponent in 2014, is aimed at a provision of a 2012 flood insurance reform bill that ends grandfathered premiums for policyholders who, as a result of new flood-risk maps, have their risk designation changed to "below base flood elevation."

Louisiana officials say the provision is leading to unaffordable increases for some policyholders.

If the Senate passes the same language approved by the House, it makes it likely that the measure will eventually become law.

Landrieu had been seeking a longer and more comprehensive fix to the high premiums. But in a letter to the 13 Louisiana Parish presidents, who asked her andSen. David Vitter, R-La., to move the House-passed amendment through the Senate, she wrote:

"I understand that stopping these disastrous increases is your highest priority. Please be assured that it is mine as well."

Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said she would work with the panel's members "to include the House-passed Language in our Homeland Security bill."

"Hopefully, we will garner enough bipartisan support to ensure its passage in committee, through the Senate and to the president's desk for his signature," Landrieu said. "In addition, I will continue to work with you to secure a long-term, more comprehensive solution to this problem."

Vitter, too, supports the House amendment, and suggested earlier that Landrieu work to include the provision in the Homeland Security spending bill.

Landrieu's Senate subcommittee is expected to take up the spending bill for FEMA and other Homeland Security agencies in the next several weeks.

The parish executives, representing most of metro New Orleans, the River Parishes and Acadiana, in their letter to Landrieu and Vitter, warned that without Senate action, thousands of property owners will be hit by large increases in flood insurance premiums -- in some cases reaching more than $20,000 a year.

That would force many Louisianians to drop their insurance, "decreasing home values, depressing the real estate market and drastically increasing rental rates," according to the letter, signed by the presidents of Jefferson, St. Tammany, St. Charles, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist and Ascension parishes, among others.

"The exorbitant rate increases are affecting properties that have never flooded and that were built in accordance with all FEMA-required elevations and applicable codes at the time of construction," said Jefferson Parish President John Young. "These properties are now considered to be out of compliance, through no fault of the property owners or local government, due to new or proposed flood mapping by FEMA."

The Cassidy amendment doesn't' touch on Section 205 of the 2012 flood insurance law, dealing with subsidized policies for non-primary residences, business properties and severe repetitive loss properties. Properties in those categories face rate increases of 25 percent a year until they reach actuarial rates.

Another provision of Section 205 requires FEMA to drop subsidized rates immediately when a home is sold to a new owner -- a provision some Louisiana parish officials say will make some homes unsellable.

Every member of the Louisiana congressional delegation voted for the 2012 law, which was billed as a way to bring stability to a program that had been operating at a large deficit, mostly as a result of claims paid out for hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

At the time, Landrieu warned Congress would likely have to revisit the measure as its impact became clear. Landrieu asked that the bill get a separate up or down vote, so it could be amended, but it was added to an omnibus bill that included the top priority for the Louisiana delegation: the Restore Act that allocates 85 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 BP oil spill to the Gulf states.

Cassidy said he voted for the bill to bring stability to the program, but that the way FEMA is developing new flood maps -- initially not recognizing locally build flood control projects (though the agency says it will now include them) calls out for delay so policyholders can be protected from unwarranted increases.