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Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Wading out of flood insurance muck

Homeowners who face steep hikes in their flood insurance rates can glean some measure of hope with a Senate vote Monday to begin debate on bipartisan legislation to delay the rate increases.

The filibuster-proof 86-13 vote to hear debate means the Senate appears on track to approve the legislation, perhaps this week.

Florida’s senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, voted for the measure, which would delay the rate hikes and allow homeowners to transfer their current rates when selling their homes. It would keep in place the higher premiums for flood-prone properties and for second homes.

It’s a thoughtful bill that will bring relief to hundreds of thousands of homeowners and help delay any harmful effects on the fragile housing recovery in the nation’s coastal states.

Unfortunately, any optimism must be tempered by the obstinacy of House Speaker John Boehner, who has said the House won’t pass similar legislation. He said the House will consider modest changes, which have yet to be specified.

We understand the instinct to keep the government from continuing to subsidize flood insurance, but the relief being offered by the Senate bill is what’s needed to help the affected homeowners and the housing market. Florida’s House members should unite in their effort to get the Senate bill passed in the House, where considerable support already exists.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, says 183 bipartisan members of Congress have cosponsored a bill to bring relief to homeowners. “Unless you take up a solution now,” she wrote to Boehner, “greater economic harm will be inflicted.”

Lawmakers from Florida and other coastal states have worked for months to secure a delay in the rate hikes associated with the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, which was passed to end federal subsidies for flood insurance. But the act was passed without realistic flood maps, and thousands of middle-class property owners living in modest homes now face huge premium increases. The impact is particularly acute in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, where as many as 70,000 homeowners may be affected, many of them in homes that are miles from the shoreline.

The Senate plan now headed for debate would delay the rate hikes for up to four years while new flood maps are studied to determine the actual risk presented by these homes. It would also provide time to consider ways to keep the rates affordable.

That’s what’s important here. Nobody is suggesting the unsustainable federal subsidies continue. The National Flood Insurance Program racked up $24 billion in debt and should be put out of its misery.

But the fix offered by Biggert-Waters has left too many innocent victims in its wake, and is being implemented without the scientific mapping to ensure the rates are being fairly assessed.

The Senate appears poised to do its part. Now it’s up to the House.

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