WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today said he will work to win bipartisan support for legislation he helped write to protect Mississippi homeowners and businesses from exorbitantly expensive flood insurance premium hikes.
Cochran worked primarily with a bipartisan group of eight Senators—four Republicans and four Democrats—led Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) to develop the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. The bill introduced Tuesday would forestall rate increases until FEMA’s mapping methods are certified as technically sound, and until the affordability study is completed.
“I’ve heard from people from the Gulf Coast to the Delta to the Tenn-Tom who are justifiably alarmed by the prospect of unaffordable flood insurance leaving them unprotected or, worse, driving them off their property,” Cochran said.
“I support the long-term flood insurance reforms that Congress enacted last year. However, before implementing policies that could drive people out of homes and harm local economies, we need to make absolutely sure the methods being used to calculate risk are technically sound,” he said. “This legislation represents a responsible, limited approach to address the unintended problems created in implementing well-intentioned flood insurance program reforms. These high rates could actually force homeowners out of the program and jeopardize all of the reforms we’ve made to improve its solvency.”
FEMA implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 has resulted in property owners across the country being notified that the price of their National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policies will increase dramatically. This legislation passed the Senate without opportunity for amendment as part of a larger package that included the Highway Bill and Gulf Coast RESTORE Act.
In addition to demanding completion of an affordability study, the bill would require FEMA to certify that it has implemented a flood mapping approach that relies on sound scientific and engineering methodologies to determine varying levels of flood risk in all areas with NFIP participation. FEMA must also propose a draft affordability framework for congressional review. The bill sets a 24-month deadline for FEMA to take these actions and could delay rate hikes until affordability regulations authorized by Congress are finalized.
FEMA is currently revising its mapping methodologies through a process called Levee Analysis and Mapping Procedures. FEMA began this reform in March 2011 after a coalition led by Cochran questioned the validity and credibility of the agency’s “without levees” mapping procedure. A March 2013 study by the National Academies of Science called into question the technical validity of some of FEMA’s current mapping practices.
“This is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that is a product of negotiations and compromise, and probably the best chance we have for hitting the pause button before the more harmful effects of Biggert-Waters can take effect,” Cochran said. “I hope we can continue to improve the bill.”
Additional bill authors include Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Jeff Merkley (D-Alaska), and David Vitter (R-La.).
A section-by-section summary of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act is available here: http://1.usa.gov/1gan2xU