The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (H.R. 3370) and its importance to thousands of New Jersey homeowners facing steep flood insurance premium hikes was the focus of a press conference today in Ocean City, N.J. where Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) joined Congressman Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02) to discuss the importance that the bill becomes law.
The legislation, which passed in the House of Representatives March 4 by a 306-91 vote, makes a number of reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). It remedies the unintended consequences of the Biggert-Waters legislation that became law in 2012, while strengthening the NFIP program going forward. By restoring subsidized and grandfathered rates, the bill helps ensure that homeowners will not find themselves trapped by skyrocketing premiums.
"One of the very important parts of this bill is that it allows someone to sell their home and convey that affordability to the buyer of that property," Smith said. "Many of my constituents have found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place--unable to afford the new premiums, and unable to find a buyer willing to take them on. By allowing subsidized rates to be passed on with the sale of the home, this legislation will bring stability and predictability to the market."
In addition to restoring subsidized and grandfathered rates for eligible pre-FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Maps) and post-FIRM homes, the bill will prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from increasing premiums within a property class by more than 15 percent each year. In addition, no single property may face an annual rate increase of more than 18 percent. FEMA will continue to allow homes newly mapped into a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) to receive a preferred risk rate policy. There are a number of consumer-friendly reforms contained in the bill, from a Flood Insurance Advocate within FEMA to an affordability study and a report to Congress aimed at striking a balance between ensuring affordability and predictability for homeowners, and protecting the long-term sustainability of the NFIP.
Throughout the current 113th Congress, Smith has supported measures offering relief to those facing premium hikes. He cosponsored H.R.1485, Congressman LoBiondo's bill that would phase in rate increases over an eight-year period, and supported Congressman Bill Cassidy's (LA-06) amendment delaying rate premium hikes by at least a year.
"This is a major win for homeowners, especially those who need subsidized flood insurance on the Jersey Shore," Smith said. "I especially wanted to be here today to thank Frank LoBiondo for his untiring efforts, his aggressive efforts--especially behind closed doors with House leadership--to ensure this affordability legislation got to the floor and got voted on. Frank LoBiondo took the lead for New Jersey and I think he did a magnificent job. He hit a homerun. His legislation helped build momentum for the final bipartisan legislation we just passed. It's our hope and expectation that the Senate will get this bill across the finish line, and that it will be signed into law."
Smith said he has heard from constituents who have been quoted yearly premiums in the tens of thousands of dollars, with their only recourse to pay out-of-pocket for costly mitigation methods--such as elevating their home--which may or may not reduce their new rates. Restoring grandfathered rates reflects the homeowner's good-faith effort to build to code and maintain appropriate and continuous flood insurance.
Smith took a lead role in obtaining federal disaster relief funding for Superstorm Sandy victims in 2013. He successfully pushed for a 90 percent FEMA reimbursement rate for shore communities decimated by Sandy and facing extraordinary and unprecedented clean-up and disposal costs, up from the normal 75 percent federal reimbursement. He also wrote a bill that passed in 2013, H.R. 592, called the "Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013," which is pending in the Senate.