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Public Statements

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. WATERS. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this amendment offered by the gentleman from Louisiana (Mr. Cassidy). I am pleased to say that my colleagues, Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Richmond, and I have worked to address this important issue in an ongoing, bipartisan way.

The National Flood Insurance Program was created in 1968 after record flooding led the private sector to abandon the flood insurance market and stop writing flood insurance policies. The program is a key component of the Federal Government's efforts to minimize the damage and financial impact of floods. It is the only source of insurance against flood damage for most residents and provides much-needed coverage for 5.5 million homeowners and their families.

This is why I worked across the aisle with my colleague, Representative Judy Biggert, to reauthorize this program. Before this reauthorization, the flood insurance program was plagued by repeated lapses in authority, placing many local communities at risk. During those lapses, FEMA was not able to write new policies, renew expiring policies, or increase coverage limits, causing great uncertainty for millions of homeowners who depend on the program's existence.

The Biggert-Waters bill was instrumental in stabilizing the flood insurance program. It provided a 5-year reauthorization and made critical improvements to the program. The reforms in Biggert-Waters gave communities more input into flood maps and strengthened the financial position of the flood insurance program.

In drafting this bill with then-Chairwoman Judy Biggert, I sought to strike the right balance between protecting homeowners and strengthening the flood insurance program. This law was intended to reauthorize the flood insurance program in a sustainable way. The intent was not to impose punitive or unaffordable rate hikes that could make it difficult for some to remain in their homes. You heard the testimony from Mr. Richmond about the incredible increases in the premium costs. This is why I am extremely concerned about reports that homeowners in certain areas are facing high and unsustainable flood insurance rates.

I have committed to work with FEMA and with my colleagues here in Congress to address this unintended consequence of this otherwise helpful legislation, so I am supporting the gentleman's amendment today. This would prohibit FEMA from using funds made available in this act to implement one provision from Biggert-Waters that has raised an unintended consequence and requires further study before being implemented.

While the gentleman's amendment is a positive first

step in addressing this issue, more needs to be done.

Last month, my friend from Louisiana, Mr. Richmond, and I introduced H.R. 2199, the Flood Insurance Implementation Reform Act of 2013, a bill on which Mr. Cassidy is an original cosponsor, that would take additional steps to provide meaningful relief and address the issue of affordability. The bill would delay implementation of changes to grandfathered rates, the subject of Mr. Cassidy's amendment, for 3 years instead of 1 year. It would also delay implementation of the rate changes that FEMA is currently rolling out.

I look forward to continuing to work with my friends on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the Biggert-Waters Act is implemented in a balanced way to ensure the flood insurance program's stability and affordability. FEMA's current implementation schedule would upset that delicate balance and unintentionally impact families and local communities.

For these reasons, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support H.R. 2199 and to also vote ``aye'' on this amendment.

Let me just say to those who would represent that we all voted for it: so since we voted for it and we worked together, we worked across the aisle, Democrats and Republicans working together, that somehow we can't make amends or changes that are desperately needed, working together. I think it is extremely important when you have Mr. Cassidy over there and you have WATERS over here, one of the original authors of the bill, who are talking about something has happened, unintended consequences that have taken place that will cause homeowners to lose their homes.

Now, it's easy if this does not happen in your communities or in your districts. But, ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know that this is an interdependent business that we're in, and to the degree we recognize other people's problems and we're willing to stand up and give support, particularly when it talks about homeownership, when it talks about that which is so important to all of us, that we should work together, and I would urge an ``aye'' vote.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Ms. WATERS. Thank you very much.

I would like to thank Mr. Grimm for his eloquent description of precisely what can happen and what is happening, and his plea to all of us to ensure that we don't place people in the position of losing their homes because they cannot afford these extraordinary increases in premiums.

I met with residents from Plaquemines Parish who came to the Congress of the United States. All the elected officials and community leaders came together, and they came here to make a plea to us to understand that, with this increase in premiums, they certainly can't afford it, and they can't afford to sell it because nobody is going to buy it.

So Mr. Grimm talked about victimization and the fact that we would be victimizing people who are victims of natural disasters twice, and that's precisely what it's all about. And I think that we are more caring than that.

I think that we understand that there's still a lot of things to be worked out. The flood maps have not been completed. The pricing has not been really dealt with, and so I think we need time. We need time in order to answer these questions, to deal with the complexities of what we're trying to do.

I think we can stabilize flood insurance. I think that is possible. But I, as one of the authors of this bill, I'm also making a plea to say that we did everything that we could to try and have a bill that's sustainable, that's viable, that makes good sense.

But as we review what is going on and the risk and the harm that people are now confronted with, we're saying, let's take a step backwards for a short period of time and let's give these victims, and other victims in other areas of this country, an opportunity to at least hold on to their homes and not have them literally taken away from them because we didn't realize these unintended consequences.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Ms. WATERS. The gentleman from Georgia talked about there are no unintended consequences, and he attempted to speak for me, one of the authors of the bill. I just think that he does not understand that we put in a lot of work on this bill. We worked in a bipartisan way. And if one of the authors of the bill tells you there are unintended consequences, then I think the gentleman from Georgia cannot dispute that.

Let me just say that I talked with FEMA about mapping, and I talked with FEMA about these decertified levees. They admitted that they had decertified some and they're going to recertify them because they didn't quite know what they were doing.

They also told me that the maps certainly need a lot of work, that they are not complete. What I'm saying is this: all of those homeowners who can't sleep at night, who can't plan their futures, don't know whether or not they're going to be able to send their children to college, all of those homeowners who are in limbo, who don't understand whether or not they're going to be able--certainly they're not going to be able to pay increased premiums. They won't be able to sell the house. Why would we be a party to causing that kind of consternation to fellow human beings? I don't think we want to do that.

We have the power here today to support Mr. Cassidy's bill and to buy some time and tell FEMA to get it right, to work on it, because these are unintended consequences.

So I just wanted the gentleman from Georgia to know that I certainly appreciate your concern. But you certainly don't understand the work that was put into it and how I know unintended consequences when I see them because of the way that I worked on the bill, and I know it was not intended to do what it is now doing.

If you had spent some time with the people who traveled to Washington, D.C.--elected officials and community leaders alike--who took up the whole room, making an appeal to us to not put them in a position where they would lose their homes, where communities would be destroyed because FEMA was not ready, not prepared--not equipped maybe--to do what they needed to do to carry out the bill even. And that some of those increases that were being talked about, that were being projected, were increases that were almost made up; they were not actuarially sound.

So I would ask you to please vote for this bill. Change your mind. Give some leadership and ask your colleagues to vote for the bill.


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