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March 17, 2014

Lawmakers scrambling to provide relief for flood insurance

(Continued)

Supporters of the 2012 law said Thursday’s bill in the U.S. Senate continues to subsidize home ownership in risky, flood-prone areas and increases the need for a future taxpayer bailout of the National Flood insurance Program.

“While politically expedient today, this abdication of responsibility by Congress is going to come back and bite them and taxpayers when the next disaster strikes,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group. “Everyone knows this program is not fiscally sound or even viable in the near term.”

The flood insurance program collects $3.5 billion in premiums each year, but FEMA officials say it needs another $1.5 billion from once-subsidized policyholders to remain solvent.

An estimated 1.1 million of the 5.5 million flood insurance policyholders receive subsidies.

Individual premiums for flood insurance depend on a host of factors but currently range from $400 a year to more than $8,000 in high-risk zones, according to FEMA’s website. There were more than 60,000 flood insurance policies in Massachusetts in 2013, but figures are not available for how many more properties have been brought into flood zones as a result of the new maps.

The new maps also are being challenged.

Rockport officials recently convinced FEMA to modify flood maps for the Sandy Bay and Long Beach areas, because the elevations used to identify at-risk properties were based on a Pacific Coast wave model that was not appropriate for the East Coast. The town spent $24,000 on scientific studies to prove that the maps were flawed.

Congressional lawmakers have said Rockport’s challenge should set a precedent for the state — because the maps were all largely based on a method used for Pacific Coast communities — and have called on the Obama administration to postpone the mapping process for a review of FEMA’s methodology.

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