Coastal homeowners have one less thing to worry about as winter-storm season looms thanks to an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program and a decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to operate at full capacity despite an ongoing partial government shutdown.
Months of short-term extensions and two brief lapses in the program had homeowners and experts frustrated that a more permanent solution may never come. Now, a separate appropriations bill has authorized funding for the program through May 31 and gives advocates a chance to push for reforms they say are desperately needed.
“I think if you look at where we were in the beginning of 2017, we seem to be back there which is with a new congress and flood insurance as a priority,” Joe Rossi, chairman of the Massachusetts Coastal Coalition, said. “We may not get the overwhelming, huge strategic reform we’ve always wanted, but we may be able to get something substantial.”
United States House Committee on Financial Services will have to pioneer any major reforms, and incoming chair Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has already identified the NFIP as a priority.
In the fight for reforms, Rossi said there are five major issues the coalition is focused on trying to fix: drawing accurate FEMA flood maps; if policies for severe repetitive-loss properties should continue to be written; how private flood insurance works within the national program; how mitigation funding is handled and how to make insurance affordable.
“Every single part of flood insurance industry, private and federal, will be effected by whatever changes we get in 2019,” Rossi said
The flood insurance program first expired in October of 2017 and nearly a dozen short-term extensions kept it alive between then and Dec. 21, when President Donald Trump signed the new, six-month extension. Lapses in January and March were the first lapses in the program since 2010.
When the new extension was passed, FEMA said the ongoing shutdown meant the insurance program would operate at a minimized capacity, and that no new policies could be written and existing policies couldn’t be changed. Last Friday, however, the agency reversed course and said the program would continue as normal.
“It took everybody by surprise, it was a shock to the industry,” Rossi said. “My initial reaction was ‘why are we passing legislation to extend the NFIP if the administration is going to stop issuing flood insurance policies?'”
The National Association of Realtors estimated the decision not to issue new policies could have disrupted up to 40,000 home sales each month. In Massachusetts, about 60,000 people are insured by the NFIP.
“Even through it was retroactively retracted, I for several days had to tell people ‘I can’t renew your policy and I can’t sell you a new one,'” Rossi said. “If nothing else, it makes the flood insurance program look bad. . . It just proves our point that even if we think we know what’s going to happen, we never do. If you need to buy or renew insurance – don’t wait, just in case.”
Reach Mary Whitfill at firstname.lastname@example.org.