Congress ponders flood insurance changes

The future of flood insurance is unclear as Congress debates postponing the rate increases put into place by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in 2012.

With this season’s snowfall and warmer temperatures expected this week, Seneca County residents may be affected by flooding.

The National Flood Insurance Act created the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968. The program, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency website, allows property owners to purchase flood insurance from the government.

The program was reformed by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in 2012 after the NFIP had a deficit of about $24 billion due to claims from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

The Flood Insurance Reform Act would have caused premiums to increase to add funding to the NFIP and extend the program for five years.

On Jan. 30, the U.S. Senate agreed to advance the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. The bill would delay implementation of a new premium structure created by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act is intended to make sure premium increases are fair, along with delaying rate hikes for four years to allow FEMA to create a plan to make premiums affordable and to reevaluate its maps and flood-prone areas.

The affordability study and report must be completed within two years of passage of the bill.

As outlined on Congress’s website, the bill would require FEMA to propose a new “affordability framework” to address affordability of flood insurance sold under the National Flood Insurance Program and include whatever issues are discovered through the affordability study.

FEMA is to consider criteria such as organizing communication to individuals regarding the flood risk associated with their property and looking into individual or community actions to lessen flood risks or lower the cost of insurance.

FEMA also is to designate a flood insurance advocate to insure fair treatment of policy holders involved in the National Flood Insurance Program. Through the advocate, property owners are to receive more information on flood risk, potential flood mitigation and measures to reduce insurance rates.

The bill also said FEMA must make the premium rates available to the public once they are decided.

Premiums could increase drastically due to implementation of the new premium structure and may affect value of homes in flood plains if the Affordability Act is not passed.

Multiple bills have been discussed in Congress, but this is the first major attempt to put a bill through on the matter. Recent attempts by the House of Representatives have delayed the bill.

In Tiffin, the areas most affected by flooding are the low-lying areas near Tiffin Columbian High School.

Information about the bill has not reached the local levels of the Emergency Management Agency or the Seneca Soil and Water Conservation District. Since the proposal is new and the effects are unknown, it is unclear on how it could affect flood plains in Seneca County.