The National Flood Insurance Program must not be allowed to expire in September, since letting it lapse would disrupt the housing market, the program’s director told federal lawmakers Tuesday.
The program “needs an on-time, multiyear reauthorization,” Roy Wright said at a Senate banking committee hearing. “The stability of the real estate and mortgage markets depends on this.”
The 49-year-old federal program is due to expire Sept. 30 unless Congress and President Donald Trump agree to extend it. The last reauthorization was signed in 2012. Two years before that, the program lapsed four times as lawmakers debated ways to address its financial troubles. Those lapses delayed 47,000 home sales nationwide, since home buyers could not obtain the flood policies they needed, according to the National Association of Realtors. Most mortgage lenders require flood insurance for homes in high-risk flood zones.
The program, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is $24.6 billion in debt due to claims paid out for storms such as Sandy and Katrina. It has come under heavy criticism for problems homeowners faced when they filed claims after superstorm Sandy devastated parts of Long Island’s coasts in October 2012.
“In the aftermath of Sandy, I saw firsthand all of the problems with the program and all of the work that needs to be done,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said at the hearing. “Sandy was a natural disaster, but the delays, the denials, the disputes . . . [homeowners] encountered throughout the flood insurance claims process — that was a man-made disaster.”
At the hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) cited news reports stating that Trump plans to seek budget cuts at several agencies — including an 11 percent cut for FEMA — to help pay for a border wall with Mexico. “We’d be building this wall at the expense of families that are already struggling to pay for flood insurance,” she said.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) criticized the program for granting subsidized insurance to homeowners regardless of their income or the value of their homes. “If you can afford a million-dollar beach estate in Nantucket, you don’t need middle-class workers to foot the bill for your flood insurance,” he said.
On the House side, reauthorizing the program “and improving it to protect affordability for Long Island taxpayers is a top priority” for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Jennifer DiSiena, a spokeswoman for Zeldin said in an email. Residents who have low incomes should be protected from “unaffordable” insurance rates, and those who elevate their homes should get a “clear return on their investment through lower premiums,” DiSiena said.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said in a statement that Congress “needs to pass a long-term reauthorization package that includes reforms that ensure the NFIP claims process is fair and easy to navigate.”
And while the program must be put “on sound financial footing,” King said Congress “can’t solve the NFIP’s problems by charging unreasonable rates that drive people out of their homes and freeze up the real estate market.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an emailed statement that as the program comes up for reauthorization, he will seek “to include reforms that protect homeowners from outrageous premiums and storm victims from fraud and abuse.”
On Thursday, the House subcommittee on housing and insurance will hold a hearing to solicit local comments on the program. Two Long Islanders are set to testify, DiSiena said: Aram Terchunian, an environmental engineer and Westhampton Dunes village official, and Melissa Luckman, director of the Disaster Relief Clinic at Touro Law Center.