WASHINGTON – June 4, 2019 – The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that millions of people rely on has gotten another temporary extension, as members of Congress renew efforts to work out a long-term proposal.
The NFIP extension through the end of September was tucked into a $19 billion disaster aid package the U.S. House approved in a 354-58 vote Monday evening. It now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
This is the 12th temporary extension in two years. U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy has led a bipartisan group of senators in calling for a long-term solution, rather than the piecemeal approach Congress has taken since September 2017, when the last major authorization ended.
“This ridiculous process has created significant uncertainty and anxiety for homeowners, renters, and small business owners in our states,” the senators wrote in a joint letter last month.
House and Senate leaders from both parties have expressed optimism about the long-term talks. U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said he believes a five-year agreement can be hashed out in the coming months before the program faces its next deadline.
In Cassidy’s letter, senators called for a broader overhaul that factors in more accurate risk assessments, affordability components, mitigation funding and other improvements, including addressing “repetitive loss properties” through buyouts, elevations and other flood-proofing measures.
Repetitive loss properties are those for which NFIP has paid at least two claims of more than $1,000 in any 10-year period since 1978. At 7,223 properties, Louisiana has significantly more than any other state with damages totaling $1.22 billion between 1978 and 2015, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Natural Resource Defense Council.
The program provides flood coverage to more than 5 million policy holders across the country, but it also faces resistance among lawmakers who question its costs and efficiency.
The Government Accountability Office has included the NFIP on its “high risk list” because it hasn’t struck a sustainable balance between keeping insurance affordable and maintaining the program’s solvency, leading to premium rates that “in many cases do not reflect the full risk of loss and produce insufficient premiums to pay for claims.”
The NFIP had to borrow money from the Treasury to help cover major disasters, after the program became mired in debt following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The disaster aid package, which includes funding for more than three-dozen states that have experienced floods, wildfires, hurricanes and other disasters in the past year, was blocked from passing three times while Congress was on a week-long recess. Three Republicans who acted to block the legislation said they wanted a recorded voice vote in the Democrat-controlled chamber.
© 2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La., Elizabeth Crisp. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.