By Rep. Steve Scalise
Storm clouds loom over Southeast Louisiana. They're easy to see, even on the brightest of days. In some ways, it could be worse than any hurricane ever on record, yet storm surge and strong winds aren't even the threat. This storm's calling card is man-made - FEMA implementation of Biggert-Waters flood insurance rate hikes that will gut the Louisiana housing market and devastate our local and national economies.
Fortunately for hundreds of thousands, the winds are shifting.
Congress is on the doorstep of a major victory for homeowners as the House moves to reform the unworkable and unrealistic National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) rate hikes by providing long-term certainty and peace-of-mind to Louisiana families.
Simply put, we have finally convinced many of my colleagues in Congress to recognize that we must move away from unaffordable premium rate hikes by ushering in real, structural reforms, not simply window-dressing delays.
Consider the harm of the Biggert-Waters act. Will you go buy a new house today, knowing that you'll be forced to pay the full FEMA-derived actuarial rate for flood insurance without any sort of gradual phase-in? Neither will most others.
Many argue that the NFIP needs to get out of debt and become actuarially sound. I agree. At $27 billion in the red, the NFIP is simply on an unsustainable path. But sending someone a $20,000 bill for flood insurance on a house that costs less than $150,000 is both unrealistic and unfair. In fact, it will do just the opposite when those homeowners default on their mortgage and are forced to abandon their home. Let's face it; there are some outside of our state who think that's a desirable and preferable solution. Until we recognize that reality and begin working with one voice to implement real, long-term solutions, we will continue losing the fight to put the NFIP on the path to sustainability while providing certainty to residents facing natural disasters.
We must implement a better solution than kicking millions of people out of their homes. That must start by abandoning the political showmanship that's corrupted this effort.
The flood insurance program has lapsed or nearly expired 18 separate times over the past five years, and led to the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012. Long-term, concrete solutions have always been the stated goal of NFIP reforms and have been supported by both local and national organizations. We cannot afford to lose sight of that goal now as we work to create certainty that ends the last five years of lapses and patches.
Just a few weeks ago, President Obama expressed opposition to our reform efforts, and House Speaker John Boehner came out against a bill that addresses the unworkable Biggert-Waters rate hikes. I have strongly stood up to all of these detractors, while working hard over the last few months to build a bipartisan coalition committed to solving this problem. Now we have finally received a commitment from Majority Leader Eric Cantor to bring a solution to the House floor.
Louisiana is the sportsman's paradise, the cornerstone of American energy security, and home to a vibrant culture unique in our nation. The importance of a sustainable and affordable flood insurance program cannot be understated, and the two are not mutually exclusive.
Fortunately a growing coalition in Congress now understands this as well. I am proud to represent the hard-working people of Southeast Louisiana who should not be penalized for playing by the rules. As we stand at the doorstep of a vote to finally reform the unworkable Biggert-Waters Act, I am inspired by the resiliency of our people and will not rest until we pass a solution to this problem.