Smelling a rat in Washington

For months we have been smelling a rat – a big one in Washington – in the National Flood Insurance Program. As it has developed, our noses were right.

Now, with numbers surfacing to confirm our suspicion, a few members of Congress are looking into the matter. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., is in the lead.

Late last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency began informing some holders of federal flood insurance policies that their premiums would be going up – some quite drastically. Asked why, FEMA functionaries pointed to the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act.

By wide margins, Congress approved the act after being told the flood insurance program has a $24 billion deficit.

Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy were blamed for much of the imbalance between premiums and claims.

But after hearing horror stories from local residents, we suggested FEMA might be paying for coastal storm damage by disproportionately increasing flood insurance costs for inland residents. In other words, people like those here in West Virginia and Ohio were being told to pay unncecessarily high premiums to subsidize flood insurance policies in coastal areas.

Now, as we reported earlier this month, the numbers are out – and they back up our contention. McKinley and some other lawmakers have seen them, too – and they are not happy.

This week, McKinley demanded an explanation in a letter to FEMA official David Miller.

Flood insurance premium increases were so outrageous that Congress in effect put a hold on Biggert-Waters, as McKinley noted.

He added, “Much of the stress on the flood insurance program has come as a result of flooding in coastal areas. Yet states like West Virginia are paying higher rates and premiums than many of these areas.”

Precisely. As McKinley noted, West Virginians paid the highest premium rate in the nation last year, at 6.5 percent. The national average is 3.5 percent.

“Compared to other states, West Virginia policyholders are paying more in premiums, a higher rate, and have smaller claims,” McKinley noted. His letter included some statistics:

In West Virginia, the average flood insurance premium last year was $896.38, while in South Carolina it was $666.85.

Yet West Virginia accounts for a much lower percentage of total flood insurance claims – less than 1 percent during the progam’s history.

Those numbers are merely the tip of the iceberg. Other FEMA statistics back up the point that inland residents are paying more than their fair share of flood insurance premiums, while those in coastal regions are paying less.

This is a matter of simple fairness. McKinley and other lawmakers from inland states should not allow FEMA to balance flood insurance books on our backs.