Flood insurance rate hike delay headed to U.S. House

sjones@thesunnews.comJanuary 31, 2014 

Pressure from angry constituents helped secure passage for U.S. Senate approval for a delay in implementing changes to the federal flood insurance program, according to news reports, and the news will certainly be heartening to the thousands along the Grand Strand who could see hefty flood insurance rate increases without it.

Now the reprieve will go to the House, and Nate Johnson, government affairs director for the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors, doesn’t want to take a guess of what might happen.

“I’m not a gambling man,” Johnson said Friday afternoon.

He said he’s been told of one Garden City homeowner who was told his flood insurance would skyrocket from $3,200 a year to $62,000 a year. No doubt that’s a big house, but many others are looking at premiums that hit the $20,000 mark.

“More and more people are getting quotes, and they’re saying ‘I can’t afford this,’” Johnson said.

He said the association has urged Realtors to contact the state’s House members, and that they in turn have asked homeowners to do the same.

The bill would delay for up to four years huge premium increases that are supposed to phase in next year and beyond under new and updated government flood maps. It also would allow homeowners to pass below-cost policies on to people who buy their homes. People who have recently bought homes and face sharp, immediate jumps in their premiums would see those increases rolled back.

Opponents of the bill say it unravels long-sought reforms of the flood insurance program, which has required numerous taxpayer bailouts and owes $24 billion to the Treasury Department as a result, according to The Associated Press.

There’s reportedly tension in the House between supporters of the Senate approach and top Republicans like Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who is largely standing behind the 2012 changes. Hensarling spokesman David Popp told The Associated Press that the chairman wants “free-market alternatives” to the government-run flood insurance program.

But allies of delaying the rate hikes demonstrated in a 281-146 vote last year in the House that they have sweeping support for delaying premium increases.

Johnson said a committee of government affairs officials is meeting Monday at the South Carolina Association of Realtors and will map out a strategy, if they feel that continued lobbying is a good thing.

Johnson said the delay has the support of U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach.

But what might happen with a House vote?

Johnson said he had talked with the national Realtors association.

“They just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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