Flood insurance policyholders may see relief

PARKERSBURG – Residents with National Flood Insurance policies who have seen large increases in premiums may see some relief if a West Virginia congressman has his way.

U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., plans to introduce legislation this week seeking to suspend the flood insurance rate increases. At the beginning of October some participants in the National Flood Insurance Program saw dramatic increases in their premiums as a result of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.

However, the law took effect while Flood Insurance Rate Maps used to determine flood insurance rates are in the process of being updated nationwide. Rahall’s bill, House Resolution 3380, would freeze the insurance hikes until the updated maps are finalized and would reimburse homeowners who are paying higher premiums in the interim.

Wood County’s new flood maps go into effect this month, County Emergency Management Director Ed Hupp said.

“We have been getting calls and emails about the changes, asking if there was anything we could do to help them. Some people saw some pretty high rates. Of course we don’t set the rates, but there are things within the floodplain program you can do to try and lower your rates. We try to help them as much as we can,” Hupp said.

Some policyholders here reported seeing their rates go from $400 to thousands of dollars, he said.

“We’ve heard about some people out there in other areas of West Virginia that have seen enormous increases,” Hupp said.

Residents with an issue with their rates are encouraged to call Hupp at the 911 Center on Core Road. He can be contacted at 304-420-0911.

“We have been going out and taking a look at the properties when they contact us. We encouraged some people who had property that was close to the flood zone to challenge the map, to get a surveyor to actually come out and actually measure it because there might be an error. Some people were able to get some relief,” he said. “Those living right along the river might not have that option, but there are building recommendations that can help lower some rates,” he said.

Hupp said he was aware of the proposed legislation and any effort would be helpful to property owners with the flood insurance policies.

“Of course, nothing is official until it’s passed and signed by the president,” Hupp noted.

Hupp said the policyholders were notified of the increase in rates as policies came up for annual renewal or in some cases, new policies were being written.

“The proposed legislation could help delay the increase or ease it in. We’ve had some major storms here over the past few years that have had an additional affect on the National Flood Insurance Program,” Hupp said.

A property owner with a home loan is required by law to have flood insurance if they live within a designated flood zone, Hupp said.

“It’s not just rising waters that homeowners in flood prone areas now have to worry about, but dramatically rising flood insurance rates that are depressing home values and potentially forcing residents from the communities they lived in for generations,” Rahall said. “If being socked with skyrocketing premiums wasn’t bad enough, the maps that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is relying on to justify these rate increases have not even been finalized.

“In some instances the new maps don’t even reflect federally funded flood projects that would take certain communities out of flood prone zones,” he said. “My bill would suspend the new rate changes until these maps have been appropriately updated and would reimburse those that are now paying these unfair higher premiums.”

Since 1962, the National Flood Insurance Program has helped homeowners purchase affordable flood insurance.

According to John Noble, Democratic communications director with the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the House of Representatives, changes to the program designed to relieve its $24 billion deficit, mandated by Biggert-Waters, have unexpectedly resulted in higher premiums for millions of homeowners across the country. Concerns have also been raised that as new flood maps are being drawn across the country, they have neglected to include flood control efforts that would result in lower flood risk designations.

Rahall’s legislation also would require the Army Corps of Engineers to certify that these maps include all flood control and mitigation projects before insurance rates could change.

“These drastic premium increases were not intended by Congress and as such homeowners should not be forced to pay them. My bill would put the brakes on these hikes, make flood insurance participants whole, and gives Congress an opportunity to find a reasonable solution that shores-up the flood insurance program without increasing premiums to unreasonably high levels,” Rahall said.