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Flood rates might not raise for local residents

February 25, 2014

With many Grays Harbor residents facing flood insurance rates as high as their monthly house payments, House leaders introduced a plan that would go even further than the Senate-passed bill to delay premium increases Congress ordered a year and a half ago, eliminating many of them entirely.

According to Jennifer Scholtes of Congressional Quarterly, since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced earlier this month that his chamber would take up a “modified version” of the bill the Senate passed in January, GOP leaders had not divulged any official details of the House proposal. Text they unveiled just before midnight on Friday largely indicates what aides privy to the negotiations have been predicting and is expected to get the needed votes to pass on Wednesday.

The House version would preserve subsidized premium rates under the National Flood Insurance Program for properties with so-called “grandfathered” policies, instead of delaying premium hikes for up to four years like the Senate’s plan. That means any property the program insures would forever pay rates based on the property’s designated flood zone when it was built, even if new floodplain mapping shows that the property is at a higher-risk than before.

The legislation would not touch the increases for businesses, second homes and properties that severely and repeatedly flood. The program would be required to raise those premiums by 25% each year until they reach new rates.

Cantor said in a written statement, “The House will act to protect the flood insurance program but also protect homeowners from unreasonable and unrealistic premium increases.”

The law Congress enacted in 2012 requires the federally run insurance program to raise premiums on grandfathered properties by 20% each year until they are paying rates that fully cover their risk. Those rate hikes were not set to begin until the end of this year, at the earliest.

To make up for the income the federal insurance program will forgo by retaining grandfathered rates and more slowly raising premiums, the House proposal would require the program to impose an annual surcharge of $25 on residential properties, and of $250 on businesses and second homes.

Although properties would retain rates based on their original flood zone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would still be able to raise the rates charged within each zone. Under the bill, the agency could not increase a flood zone’s prices each year by more than 15% above the average premium cost for that flood-risk category.

Lawmakers are set to vote on the plan Wednesday.


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