Working to keep our head above water

With my support, the House of Representatives recently passed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which provides relief from flood insurance rates that have skyrocketed to unaffordable levels.

Although the bill does not completely halt the rise in rates, as I have proposed, it does slow the increase and allow policy holders, including new homebuyers, to keep previously subsidized rates. It also restores grandfathered flood risk zones, which means that policy holders would continue paying lower rates even if their risk assessment has changed under revised flood maps.

In addition, the bill requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to increase community notification before updating any flood zone mapping. Notified communities would have 30 days to consult with FEMA and then additional opportunities to challenge FEMA assumptions, as well as to appeal subsequent flood hazard determinations.

The House and Senate must now reconcile their separate bills, and I will be pushing hard for maximum relief for all flood insurance policy holders. The Senate has passed a different bill that would delay premiums rate increases until FEMA completes a study to determine affordability for policy holders.

In the meantime, I continue to press FEMA to employ its current authorities to ensure fairness in insurance premiums and protect homeowners from unreasonable rate increases. I also am bringing our region’s concerns about mapping inaccuracies to the attention of FEMA officials, as well as urging them to establish an appeals process for communities in disagreement with FEMA’s flood maps.

All of this is necessary because of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. This legislation reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program for five years and made revisions to the Program to ensure its long-term sustainability. It requires for the first time that the National Flood Insurance Program be actuarially sound, which means premium rates that are charged must be based on actual risk.

As a result of Biggert-Waters, flood insurance rates have increased to ridiculous levels for some homeowners. Because of the rate increases, not only have some properties become unaffordable for existing homeowners, but it also has become difficult or impossible for owners to sell their homes.

Knowing that rising premiums are placing a considerable financial burden on West Virginia homeowners, I introduced legislation to delay any increases in premium rates for flood insurance coverage until FEMA completes a comprehensive review and updates its flood insurance rate maps. The legislation also charges the Army Corps of Engineers with reviewing and certifying that these maps include all flood control projects completed by the Corps.

I also questioned FEMA officials as part of a hearing before my Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House of Representatives and wrote to the FEMA Administrator.

In my letter, I criticized the agency for moving ahead with premium rate increases before completing the study mandated by Congress on the affordability of full-risk, actuarial rates. As well, I was critical of existing flood maps, which, in many instances, do not adequately reflect federally funded projects that have removed properties from flood zones.

West Virginians should not be forced to hire surveyors out of their own pockets at considerable cost in order to dispute flood maps. We certainly should not have to pay higher premiums because of flawed maps.

Our state’s residents and businesses deserve to pay affordable premiums that are based on accurate maps. That is not too much to ask.

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District. For more information, contact Diane Luensmann at 202-225-3452, or visit