U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Congresswoman McCarthy announced today that FEMA has agreed to their call for an extension of the low-cost preferred risk flood insurance policies for Nassau County property owners. Under the existing flood insurance program, homeowners who live in an area designated as a flood zone are required to purchase flood insurance. These policies can cost up to $2,000 per year on Long Island. Certain residents in Nassau County, however, who only recently were determined to live in flood hazard areas due to new mapping, were allowed to purchase Preferred Risk Policies (PRP) -- a lower-cost alternative --at premium rates of $200 to $400 per year. Those subsidized policies were set to expire on December 31, 2012 and Schumer, Gillibrand, and McCarthy urged FEMA to extend them. FEMA agreed to do just that, extending the availability of the PRP for eligible households indefinitely.
"Nassau County homeowners can breathe a little easier knowing they are no longer staring down an impending deadline that could have cost them thousands of dollars," said Schumer. "This decision will ease the burden on local homeowners while FEMA develops new maps, with local data, as they were compelled to by the legislation I authored and that was signed into law last month."
"FEMA has made the right decision and heeded our calls to extend indefinitely the eligibility for the PRP," said Gillibrand. "This will keep local residents flood insurance bills lower while FEMA implements reforms, including using local scientific data to determine flood zones. I will continue to work with communities to ensure that flood maps reflect local data and keep insurance costs low."
"This is great news for thousands of families living on Long Island and even more across the country, many of whom are saving thousands of dollars per year under the PRP program" Rep. McCarthy said. "I'm glad that FEMA is heeding our request and extending the PRP program to provide some much-needed relief to Long Islanders."
In June, Schumer, Gillibrand and McCarthy noted that, until FEMA finalizes a new Jamaica Bay study and updates Nassau County flood maps with local dating reflecting appropriate base flood elevations, residents shouldn't be forced to pay thousands of dollars in higher insurance premiums.
In September 2009, FEMA implemented new flood maps throughout Nassau County that forced thousands of residents to purchase flood insurance plans, costing up to $2,000 per year. In communities like Valley Stream, Massapequa Park, and throughout the Town of Hempstead -- areas which have little to no recorded history of significant flooding to the new base elevation levels -- residents are being forced to purchase insurance at the same levels as coastal communities. Nassau residents and officials argue that the maps are faulty because they are based on Suffolk County data, and therefore does not utilize the best available science or the appropriate base flood elevation data.
Nassau County residents who wish to buy insurance or are required to by their lender will be allowed to continue purchasing PRPs at a cost only $200 to $400 instead of up to $2,000. Without this action, PRP policies would have expired on December 31, 2012.
Last month, Schumer's bill requiring a five year moratorium on the implementation of new flood maps on Long Island and requires the collection of new local data in Nassau County was signed into law, forcing FEMA to establish new maps with local data. Schumer's bill required FEMA to remake their existing flood maps that failed to use Nassau-specific data during major map changes put in place in late 2009. Flood zones affected by the Jamaica Bay flood study, including Valley Stream, an area that saw thousands of homes added in 2009, and those parts of the Town of Hempstead affected by the 2009 remapping. FEMA is now required to produce new preliminary maps within one year. Upon presentation of those maps, localities on Long Island will then have an opportunity to challenge any new maps. The extension of the PRP will allow homeowners to continue paying lower rates, while new maps are developed.
A copy of the letter Schumer, Gillibrand, and McCarthy sent to Administrator Fugate can be found below.
Dear Administrator Fugate,
We write today to urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to extend the preferred risk policy for property owners until the new Jamaica Bay flood maps are finalized. Currently, the preferred risk policy is set to expire on December 31, 2012, but it is still a necessity for our constituents who reside in Queens and Long Island.
As you know, thousands of residents living in Queens and Long Island have been impacted by FEMA's 2009 flood mapping and thousands more will be affected by the Jamaica Bay flood study currently underway. The preferred risk policy allows affected property owners to pay a reduced flood insurance rate of approximately $200 to $400 per year on average. Once this policy expires, residents' flood insurance rates will sky rocket to approximately $2,000 per year on average. With the high cost of living on Long Island, these flood insurance rates are exorbitant and homeowners will have difficulty selling their homes because of the premium.
In addition, FEMA used Suffolk County data to plot out Nassau County's flood maps. Until FEMA finalizes a new Jamaica Bay flood map that truly reflects the best available science and utilizes an applicable base flood elevation calculation, communities impacted by new flood elevation requirements should continue to be offered the preferred risk policy.
We strongly urge you to extend the preferred risk policy for these property owners until the Jamaica Bay flood maps are finalized. It is critical for homeowners already stretched to the limit, and forcing them to pay premiums that are many times what they are paying now is simply unfair under the circumstances, with flood maps that are in need of revision. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Sen. Charles Schumer
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy