Congressman James Langevin said Friday that he’s working to bring legislation to the House floor that would delay higher flood insurance premiums for four years.
“It has my attention and the attention of my colleagues,” Langevin said of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.
The act that took affect last July phases out federal subsides of the flood insurance program. As a result, homeowners with subsidized policies are seeing premium increases that Rhode Island realtors report have adversely impacted the market and have some people questioning whether they can afford to keep their homes.
“I know my constituents are feeling pain,” Langevin said.
The congressman said that if nothing is done, the legislation, which he and the rest of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation voted for, would adversely affect neighborhoods. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act addresses the $24 billion flood insurance program debt by eliminating government subsides. Now, however, homeowners with flood insurance are realizing the impact of the program.
“If we don’t do something, it’s going to alter the neighborhoods,” Langevin said.
In Warwick, 1,871 homeowners have flood insurance policies. Of that number, about 40 percent are subsidized. Flood insurance is required for mortgaged homes within a flood zone that is determined by maps drawn by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The risk that a property is subject to affects the premium, and is determined by the flood zone and its elevation above the base flood level.
In Conimicut, Oakland Beach, Riverview and other low lying coastline Warwick neighborhoods, some that have survived successive storms, including the 1938 hurricane, don’t meet today’s flood codes. Those homeowners are seeing dramatic increases in their premiums, with reports of a policy costing $4,500 escalating to $32,000 to cover $250,000 in damage.
Last month, the Senate majority approved the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. The legislation includes an amendment introduced by Senator Jack Reed that calls for a study of voluntary community-based flood insurance programs.
“This kind of voluntary, community-based flood insurance plan could potentially give communities the option to purchase blanket policies for all properties in their communities or a portion of their communities,” according to a release from Reed’s office.
Langevin didn’t offer an opinion on Reed’s provision, but he is pushing for a bill to delay premium increases.
“We have to do the right thing,” he insisted.
But getting the bill to a floor vote in the House has proved challenging. Langevin said 185 Representatives have signed onto the bill, which is short of the 218 needed for a clear majority. He said, without that majority, the House leadership wouldn’t bring the bill up for a vote.
“I’m going to try to raise the volume to get the Speaker’s attention,” Langevin said.
If the bill reached the floor and gained approval, it is still unknown what will become of those people who have already lost subsidies and are paying higher premiums.
Would they get a refund? Will the difference be applied to future premiums?
Langevin didn’t have an answer.
“That would have to be taken up in conference,” he said.