Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Bill to stop flood insurance hikes faces crucial vote Wednesday
Written by: Sabrina Wilson - email
LAFITTE, La. - A bill designed to give people in coastal communities relief from staggering flood insurance rates tied to the Biggert-Waters Act faces a crucial legislative test Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter joined some area parish leaders at the Capitol to press Congress to pass the revised legislation.
The legislation would delay most increases in flood insurance premiums for four years, and the Senate is poised to vote Wednesday on whether to proceed with debate on the legislation. If that vote is in the affirmative, an up-or-down vote will be taken on the bill to delay the rate hikes.
In two Jefferson Parish coastal communities, the higher flood rates are already hitting home.
"It's totally ridiculous, especially for people on low income," said Marilyn Agoff outside her home in the Barataria community in low-lying Jefferson Parish.
She has lived in Barataria for 40 years, and her flood insurance bill - which used to be $433 a year - is now close to $4,000.
"Put it this way: I sure hope that they could do something about it because the thing is us, you know, on a fixed income, we can't, we can't do it," Agoff said.
On the eve of the Senate vote, Landrieu and Vitter joined other Senate colleagues and leaders of Jefferson, St. John, St. Tammany and Lafourche parishes, who were in Washington to lobby for the legislation at an afternoon press conference.
"There is a true consensus-building around the need to fix Biggert-Waters, well-intentioned but disastrous consequences. This is probably the most important issue to Louisiana right now," Landrieu said.
"That just isn't fair to people who played by all the rules every step of the way who built to the right elevation when they built," said Vitter.
"It's $12,664, and I keep getting bills," said a Barataria homeowner who did not want her name used.
She said she has no faith in FEMA after getting an astronomical premium notice.
"I've had claims on my policy that are not mine. I have never flooded, and yet I've had all these lost properties, loss claims on my premiums and it's not fair," she said.
To reduce her premium, she now has just $14,000 in flood insurance coverage for her large home and its contents. She used to have $300,000 in coverage.
"This legislation right here will put so many people out of business and put people out of their homes that I think it will destroy the country," said Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner.
He said if the proposed changes are not made by Congress, many locals will be forced into foreclosure.
"It's time to put politics aside - Republicans, Democrats need to stand side-by-side and support this bill," Kerner said.
When the Biggert-Waters Act was passed by Congress, members said it was necessary to keep the National Flood Insurance Program solvent. Kerner said the consequences of the higher rates for people in flood-risk areas will have the opposite effect.
"If you take people out of the flood insurance program by making it too costly, then you're going to make it even weaker for other people," he said.
Agoff said thankfully her home is paid for, so she doesn't have to worry about escalating mortgage payments.
"People are going to move out, but thank God that I don't have to move out, because we paid our house," she said.
But because of higher flood insurance rates, she dropped her coverage down to just $10,000 from $63,000 to keep it affordable.
If the bill makes it out of the Senate, it faces an uphill fight in the U.S. House.