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Editorial

Congress must act to extend flood insurance

Posted

Long Islanders can empathize with the victims of Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the Bahamas and left extensive damage in parts of the Carolinas. Nearly seven years after Hurricane Sandy hit, fears of the next Big One are still palpable in communities like Atlantic Beach, Long Beach, Point Lookout and Freeport.

Hundreds of homes have been elevated — in part to avoid costly flood insurance premiums. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently completed a massive coastal-protection project in Long Beach, and is moving forward with state-funded plans to install bulkheads along Reynolds Channel to mitigate flooding. And smaller, community-based mitigation projects, funded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, are either in the final stages of planning or are getting under way.

Despite such initiatives, fears are running high, in no small measure because the National Flood Insurance Program is set to expire on Sept. 30.

The Trump administration’s plan to overhaul government-subsidized flood insurance includes a sweeping proposal that could double the rates on properties in higher-risk areas, forcing longtime residents to leave their communities and lowering local property values. Homeowners who have worked tirelessly to rebuild, and in many cases emptied their retirement savings to do so, cannot afford another such financial burden.

Congress must approve the National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2019, a bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, which would extend the program for five years and protect policy holders against future rate hikes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides homeowners with flood insurance through the NFIP, which covers roughly 5 million policyholders across the country, including tens of thousands on Long Island. There are over 20,000 policies in the Town of Hempstead, covering roughly 65,000 residents, Town Supervisor Laura Gillen told reporters last month. According to Schumer, the average homeowner here pays close to $1,000 a year for flood insurance, but some South Shore residents pay as much as $3,000.

Under Schumer’s plan, the average annual premium would increase by no more than 9 percent, or $90. Additionally, the bill would better protect policyholders from drastic rate hikes based on FEMA’s proposed Risk Rating 2.0 plan, a method that would use private-sector data to determine the risk of insuring a home, like the type of flooding the area has seen in the past, distance from the coast or another body of water, and the cost of rebuilding the home. Schumer and other lawmakers said the risk-rating method could more than double rates every four years or less.

FEMA is billions of dollars in debt following destructive storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and some have speculated that its proposed plan is intended to move residents to leave flood-prone areas. Schumer’s reform bill would freeze interest payments on the NFIP debt and reinvest savings in mitigation efforts in order to restore the program to solvency and reduce future borrowing.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there is a 30 percent chance of an above-normal hurricane season through Nov. 30, and one or more of those storms could hit New York and Long Island.

For those Sandy victims who had to deal with a byzantine NY Rising process, fraudulent contractors and uncaring insurance companies, allowing the NFIP to expire would just be another blow, after they remained committed to their communities and persevered in the wake of the storm.