WASHINGTON Jan 27 A bipartisan bill to delay
dramatic increases in federal flood insurance premiums for
millions of American homeowners and small businesses cleared a
Republican procedural roadblock in the U.S. Senate on Monday.
On a vote of 86-13, the Senate agreed to advance the
Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which would
postpone for four years rate hikes of up to 10 fold and more.
A vote on Senate passage of the bill could come later this
week after consideration of a number of possible amendments
offered by members on both sides of the political aisle.
Republicans could still end up blocking the measure if they
feel that they were not given an adequate chance to amend it, a
senior aide said.
Backers of the legislation say big increases in premiums
could force many Americans to give up their homes, which, in
turn could drive down property values and hurt the economy.
"This issue isn't just about insurance rate tables and
actuarial risk rates - fundamentally it's all about people,"
said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a chief
sponsor of the bill.
Conservative opponents of the measure argue that a delay in
the premium hikes would force taxpayers to continue help cover
the cost of insurance in high-risk flood areas.
Nearly a third of the Senate's 100 members are sponsors of
the legislation. There are 181 sponsors of a similar measure in
the 435-member House of Representatives.
In 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance
Reform Act, which began raising rates in last October.
The increased premiums are designed to make property owners
pay for the true risk of living in high flood hazard areas,
including coastal areas of Florida, New Jersey, New York, Texas
and Louisiana, and inland states prone to river flooding.
The 2012 bill was passed with strong bipartisan support to
try to end a $24 billion deficit in the National Flood Insurance
Program, which had mounting losses largely from Hurricane
Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
Shortly after passage of the bill, Superstorm Sandy hammered
much of the United States' northeastern coast, generating a
mountain of new insurance claims.
The Senate bill would delay premium hikes for four years to
give the Federal Emergency Management Agency time to finish an
affordability study and re-evaluate the accuracy of its new maps
of flood areas.
During this delay, Congress would consider possible changes
in the insurance program to protect homeowners as well as
The Senate bill is backed by a number of groups, including
the National Association of Homebuilders, the National
Association of Realtors, and the American Bankers Association.