House Approves Measure To Ease Flood Insurance Hikes

Two years ago, an overhaul bill passed with the goal of pulling the federal program out of debt. When homeowners started calling lawmakers about sharp premium hikes, both chambers moved swiftly.

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The House overwhelmingly passed legislation last night to undo flood insurance reform that Congress passed less than two years ago. When homeowners started calling lawmakers about sharp premium hikes, both chambers moved swiftly to ease the pain.

NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: In 2012, Democrat Maxine Waters of California put her name on a bill that was meant to help the National Flood Insurance Program dig itself out of huge debt. Last night, she said she made a big mistake.

REPRESENTATIVE MAXINE WATERS: Mr. Speaker, because I am the Waters of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, I felt a responsibility.

CHANG: A responsibility to fix the law's unintended consequences. The Biggert-Waters Act mandated higher flood insurance premiums, just as the Federal Emergency Management Agency was updating its flood maps. Many homeowners fell within high-risk flood zones for the first time, and Waters says their premiums skyrocketed.

WATERS: We know that when you do remapping, that sometimes that will cause increases. But never in our wildest imagination did we think it would be 500, 600 percent increases.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

CHANG: Under the new House bill, homeowners who built their properties to code in the past won't see massive rate increases with remapping. And FEMA won't be allowed to raise any homeowner's premium more than 18 percent a year. To Republican Jeb Hensarling of Texas, these changes amount to fat subsidies.

REPRESENTATIVE JEB HENSARLING: That means a single mom in Dallas, where I live, who's working hard as a cashier at the Albertson's grocery store, may be forced to subsidize the flood insurance for some millionaire's beachfront vacation home. If that's not the definition of unfair, I don't know what is.

CHANG: The Senate, which already passed its own bill, is expected to quickly take up the House version.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.

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