If there was one thing Republicans and Democrats easily agreed on this week, it’s that being $24.6 billion in debt is no way to operate. In a hearing preparing for the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, legislators on the House Financial Services Committee proposed changes to the program to help it gain sounder financial ground.
Much of the program’s debt was accrued due to 2005’s Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy. The current five-year authorization expires on September 30 and not having the reauthorization enacted could disrupt housing markets in coastal and flood-prone areas. While both parties agreed on the ultimate goal, there was disagreement over how to get there. Committee Democrats expressed concern that the draft legislation would increase insurance rates for the poorest homeowners and would not authorize funding for flood risk mitigation.
Insurance premiums are determined through flood maps, which are created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The draft legislation directs FEMA to find ways to save money when creating these maps; one provision would allow maps to be made locally (so long as they meet FEMA standards), which witnesses said would lower costs. Representative Sean Duffy (WI-7), chairman of the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance, stressed the need for bipartisan efforts on this reform. However, Ranking Member Maxine Waters (CA-43) highlighted the lack of mitigation funding and reliance on local communities to invest in flood protection measures, saying it “absolutely falls short in many respects.” While it appears there is still a ways to go before a bipartisan agreement can be reached, Rep. Duffy said meetings have already been scheduled with Democrats to “hammer out a bipartisan deal.” At a separate event last week, Chairman Jeb Hensarling (TX-5) said he hopes to markup the reauthorization as early as this week.