Flood Insurance Changes



13 parish presidents lobby Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter on flood insurance amendment

Parish presidents in 13 South Louisiana parishes are asking Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter to continue pushing for a measure to stop huge hikes in flood insurance premiums for some property owners. The photo shows areas of Madisonville flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac on Aug. 30, 2012. (Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune archives)
Manuel Torres, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. By Manuel Torres, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. 
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on June 19, 2013 at 4:30 PM, updated June 19, 2013 at 5:33 PM
 If not amended, this legislation will destroy coastal and riverine communities.” — Jefferson Parish President John Young

Thirteen South Louisiana parish presidents are urging Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter to support a measure approved by the House that would block major flood insurance rate increases for many Louisiana property owners.

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

That would force many Louisianans 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 U.S. House overwhelmingly approved an amendment June 5 by Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, that prohibits FEMA from using its budget to implement some of the flood insurance rate hikes mandated by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. Cassidy’s measure would block the end of rate subsidies for policyholders who are remapped into a “below base flood elevation” status through no fault of their own.The amendment, however, needs Senate approval to become law.

“If not amended, this legislation will destroy coastal and riverine communities not only in Louisiana but also throughout the United States. It will also lead to the death of the American dream of home ownership for many of our constituents,” Jefferson Parish President John Young said of the Biggert-Waters Act.

Young organized the effort to write Wednesday’s letter from the parish presidents. The letter asked Vitter and Landrieu to attach Cassidy’s amendment, or a similar provision, to the same Homeland Security Appropriations bill that Cassidy used to get the flood insurance amendment through the House.

Vitter and Landrieu have also warned of the drastic effects of the upcoming flood insurance premium increases, and the two senators have unsuccessfully tried to attach amendments to other Senate bills to stop those rate hikes.

Some senators have objected to efforts to stop implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act, arguing that Congress passed that law, by large margins, to make the National Flood Insurance Program financially sustainable.

But Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., a co-author of the 2012 bill, has said she didn’t anticipate the astronomical increases some homeowners are facing. The letter from the parish presidents cited a Lafourche Parish family whose flood insurance premiums would jump from $388 per year to $23,946 for $200,000 worth of coverage, even though their home has never flooded and is behind non-federal flood protection structures.

The parish presidents also cited a Plaquemines Parish family whose premiums would rise from $633 a year to $28,554 for $250,000 worth of coverage. The letter said this home also had never flooded and is also behind non-federal flood protection structures.

Support in Congress to address cases like these in Louisiana has grown as premiums are also set to also rise rapidly in other parts of the country, including areas in the northeast hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Louisiana officials have complained that FEMA’s flood maps, which are crucial to determine how much homeowners will pay for flood insurance, did not reflect the protection from locally built levees in several local communities. That meant localities that didn’t flood in recent hurricanes would also face massive rate hikes.

FEMA recently said it would redo maps on those areas to include the flood-control benefits of locally-funded projects, though it’s unclear when the agency plans to adjust its maps.

Here’s the list of officials who signed Wednesday’s letter to Landrieu and Vitter:

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez, Jefferson Parish President John Young, Lafayette Parish President Joey Durel, Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, St. Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta, St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre, St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel, St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom, St. Martin Parish President Guy Cormier, St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin, St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister and Terrebone Parish President Michel Claudet.