U.S. House studying a flood insurance extension
WASHINGTON – March 15, 2017 – Looking down through the open door of U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, the most recognizable sight for U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy in the vast expanse of Lafourche Parish wetlands in Louisiana below was a herd of grazing cows.
"That probably looks like your district," U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said to the Wisconsin Republican.
"I feel right at home," Duffy answered.
Duffy is the new chairman of a House subcommittee on housing and insurance and will run point on this year's renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). If Congress doesn't act by Sept. 30, 2017, the program will expire, throwing uncertainty into the insurance market.
On the helicopter flight, Scalise wanted Duffy to see a crisscross of earthen mounds that had streaks of road along their crests. He considers them key to a new focus on NFIP insurance. When the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) produced its latest elevation maps to predict flooding risks in southeastern Louisiana, Scalise says, it sometimes did not recognize that many of those local or private bulwarks held back floodwaters. As a result, he says, some residents and businesses saw their insurance rates jump as if there were no levees at all.
Improving how to accurately assess risk is one of several tweaks Scalise, his colleagues, business interests and environmentalists will mull this year, in addition to ways to stabilize the marketplace and possibly entice private insurers to again offer flood policies.
Established in 1968 after Hurricane Betsy scared away private insurers, the NFIP allows property owners to buy financial protection against a so-called 100-year flood event, which has a 1 percent chance of happening in any given year.
However, the NFIP finds itself on shaky ground. Its accounts are $24.6 billion in arrears from massive payouts to victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Political fights in Congress let the program lapse 18 times before a major overhaul was finally agreed upon in June 2012.
The helicopter tour for the two congressmen coincided with several efforts this month to jump-start debate over what the next version of the NFIP should look like. Hearings have already begun in the House, and the Senate is expected to start its conversation this week.
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