WASHINGTON The Senate voted to begin debate Monday night on legislation that would delay flood insurance premium increases for some homeowners.
Lawmakers voted 86-13 to advance the bill, which is now subject to up to 30 hours of debate. The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act would hold certain premium rates steady until the Federal Emergency Management Agency completes an affordability study on the issue. Community banks, homeowners and others in flood-prone areas have been warning for months that premiums could skyrocket under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act of 2012 for those that have previously been grandfathered or subsidized under existing provisions.
"This legislation simply provides temporary relief to a targeted group of property owners who played by the rules and are now poised to see their most valuable asset become worthless, all through no fault of their own," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a sponsor of the bill, in a floor speech ahead of Monday night's vote.
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the House and Senate reached a deal on the issue this fall after the premium increases began to go into effect, but legislation is just now beginning to move. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who was part of that effort, lauded the Senate's progress.
"While flood insurance reform was well intended, FEMA's poor implementation, inaccurate mapping and incomplete data have led to unreasonable and unimaginable increases in premiums," she said in a press release. "Today the Senate took a major step forward to ensure that not one more family suffers from increased premiums, depressed home prices, or the inability to buy or sell their home. This legislation would ensure FEMA undertakes program changes in a way that will not cause harm, by delaying implementation until it provides Congress the facts on how rate increases will affect homeowners. It will also give us the information we need to go through the program piece-by-piece and fix any outstanding affordability issues."
A similar version of the bill in the House currently has 180 co-sponsors.
Still, the Obama administration raised some concerns over the economic consequences of the bipartisan-sponsored bill on Monday, though it did not threaten to veto the legislation.
"Delaying implementation of these reforms would further erode the financial position of the [National Flood Insurance Program], which is already $24 billion in debt," the White House said in a statement of administration policy. "This delay would also reduce FEMA's ability to pay future claims made by all policyholders."
The statement also raised concerns about an unrelated provision of the bill to establish a National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers for insurance sellers to avoid getting separately licensed in each state. The administration argued that a provision related to investigating possible members for prior criminal history is inconsistent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's background checks process, and pressed for the President to have more leeway in making nominations to the entity's board of directors. Currently, eight of the 13 board members must be state insurance commissioners, which the White House said "appears to impermissibly limit the scope of the President's appointment power."