Flood insurance hikes delayed by Congress


By Joe Moskowitz
These are confusing times for people who own homes in areas that are prone to flooding.
However, there is some good news coming out of Washington. Last week the House of Representatives passed a bill that would remove some of the “sticker shock” associated with implementation of Biggert-Waters, an act Congress passed in an attempt to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) out of the debt.

Rebates and caps
The Senate is expected to approve the House measure, and if it does, property owners who had to pay huge increases in flood insurance premiums, since Biggert Waters went into effect last autumn, would receive rebates. Additionally, increases in premiums would be capped at 18 percent per year and would be based on current flood maps.
If the changes are not approved, the financial impact property owners in flood prone areas could be catastrophic.
Middletown Code Enforcement Officer Pat Davis said Monday that new flood maps would raise the 100-year flood level to 2011 standards. That could mean that a property owner with a basement that had flood waters two feet high in the living room could be considered 10 feet below the flood level. Under Biggert-Waters, insurance premiums would have doubled for each foot. Premiums could easily triple or quadruple.
Congress now appears ready to keep that from happening.
But not all of the news is good.

Not a good deal
A couple that lives in Middletown recently received a check for more than $14,000 as a grant from the State of New York’s Community Rising Program. The funds were reimbursement for money they spent fixing their home after Hurricane Irene. Before cashing the check, they contacted attorney Carey Wagner of Margaretville. He informed them that if they cashed the check, they would be required to buy flood insurance, and over the years the premiums might cost a great deal more than what the state was paying them.

Many not aware
Wagner told the News that it is reasonable for the state to expect that the property is insured. But he said he knows of other people who weren’t aware of the permanent commitment that is attached to the check. That he said, isn’t fair.
The Middletown couple decided to return the check to the state, and the man said if it floods again, he will fix the damage himself, just like he always has.
However, that decision was based on the law last week, when flood insurance premiums appeared as though they would become unaffordable. Next week there might be a different set of rules.