U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are throwing their support behind a bill to delay steep increases in flood insurance premiums intended to reform a debt-ridden federal program.

The legislation introduced Tuesday by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) would block most premium hikes under the National Flood Insurance Program until a study determines how those costs would impact homeowners. The bill would also overturn plans to end the practice of grandfathering subsidies to buyers when houses are sold.

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"This legislation ensures that Congress will have the necessary time and data to make changes to [flood insurance] before any premium increases go into effect so communities aren't destroyed and property values aren't decimated," said Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Insurance companies typically don't provide flood coverage, because they consider it too risky. So the government has long offered subsidized policies. The approach has helped make coastal living more affordable. But it has forced the government to borrow more than $17 billion to fund claims.

The scheduled premium increases are mandated under a 2012 law designed to shore up the program's finances and run it more like a private insurer. It calls for rates to rise by as much as 25 percent annually until premiums match the actual level of flood risk.

Landrieu's bill is drawing criticism from environmentalists and deficit hawks who say it would undo reforms for a program that drives up the national debt and encourages development in fragile regions.

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"The bill would just make an insolvent program even less solvent," said Steve Ellis, of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group. "It makes no sense."