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Flood relief bill expected to go to House vote early March

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 25, 2014 05:18 PM

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An altered flood relief bill won't come before Congress until early March, despite hopes that congressional representatives would take up the issue in late February.

According to RollCall.com, the bill lacked the necessary number of votes to move forward. The language is being put to a rewrite to alleviate some Democrat concerns.

The bill was expected to make its way before Congress on Wednesday, a step that may bring relief to thousands of South Shore residents coping with the effects of a federal flood insurance mandate.

“They were cueing it up and ironing out their differences to be voted as early this week…to have a full vote of the U.S. Senate and House [before Congress adjourns in June],” said state Rep. Jim Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat, on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill seeks to augment the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which imposed steep flood insurance premiums for everyone in new flood zones. Legislators said the mandate’s goal was to better reflect the cost of coastal flooding and to make the National Flood Insurance Program solvent.

Coupled with new Federal Emergency Management Agency maps, thousands of coastal homeowners saw an increase in rates. Others experienced exorbitant flood insurance premiums for the first time despite living miles from the coast.

State and federal legislators have since taken up the mantle to effect changes to the law. The U.S. Senate passed a version of the relief bill at the end of January.

Though House Speaker John Boehner initially said he would not take up a relief bill, an augmented proposal has been brought to the floor.

In its present form, the new proposal will eliminate some sections of the bill, such as requirements that new homeowners purchasing a primary residents instantly have to pay the newer, and higher rates, rather than the grandfathered rates of the previous homeowners.

There are also discussions of a cap to how much flood insurance would be allowed to rise per year. Currently rates cannot go up more than 20 percent. The new bill would require that rates go up at least five percent, but no more than 15 percent for the average rate within a group of similarly risked properties.

“People would be seeing increases but they would be manageable,” Cantwell said.

Rather than a four year delay to removal of subsidies, subsidies would be reinstated for homes that were constructed before flood maps were created in the community.

Grandfathering would also be reinstated. Homeowners or business owners who built to previous building codes that are no longer good enough for new expected flood levels won’t see flood insurance increases, Cantwell said.

“They would be able to lock in to an elevation at the time they did their work. That’s good news,” Cantwell said.

The house bill would also reimburse homeowners that have paid rates that have since been adjusted due to the changing mandate.

To pay for the cost of repealing the bill, homeowners would have to pay a surcharge in addition to their bill. For primary residents, that would be $25. For everyone else - vacation homeowners, business, non-profits, schools - that surcharge would be $250.

Present bill language would keep the affordability study proposed in the Senate, and would also create and fund a flood insurance rate advocate.

If an altered bill is passed in the House, the two bils would go to conference committee to iron out the differences. Both houses would then vote the bill up or down to be sent to the president.

“Congress will be adjourning in June, so the hope is to have action in the house this week or next in the latest,” Cantwell said.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch was not available for comment, however Cantwell credited him and U.S. Rep William Keating with the work they had done to progress the bill.

“They deserve a lot of credit…they have been very good on this, and when there was a government shutdown, they were having meetings to get a bipartisan support,” Cantwell said.

To read the entire text of the proposed bill, click here.

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