Lowcountry congressional delegates back flood insurance rate delay

  • Posted: Friday, November 1, 2013 6:11 p.m., Updated: Friday, November 1, 2013 7:03 p.m.

Bipartisan legislation to delay flood insurance rate increases for four years has the support of Lowcountry congressional delegates.

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-SC, was one of the nearly 100 federal lawmakers to co-sponsor the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which is intended to reverse higher premiums that threaten to send the recovering home sales market into a tailspin.

Sanford said he did so because the previous reform that was passed last year, “while well intended, is flawed.”

“I wasn’t there during its passage, but in this case you have a bill that puts the cart before the horse,” he said. “It allows government to set new premiums now and charge more without disclosure of how they are deriving their new rates.”

The bipartisan group of House members and senators presented the legislation on Tuesday, saying the rate increases should not be implemented without more research.

The legislation is intended to delay parts of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2012, which was crafted to overhaul the debt-laden National Flood Insurance Program.

Details of the new legislation include delaying the new rates for people purchasing homes from someone who currently has a subsidized flood policy.

People with second homes or whose property has repeatedly flooded would still have to pay the higher rates, which are scheduled to rise by 25 percent a year until their premiums reflect the true risk of flooding.

Hope Derrick, a spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-SC, said Clyburn “supports delaying these rate increases and looks forward to the bill coming to the floor.”

Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, said in an email this week that he backs the legislation because the “current flood insurance system has made it harder for folks who play by the rules.”

“A temporary delay will allow for a halt in overly burdensome rate increases while we develop ways to make the system more affordable and more sustainable,” said Scott, who owned an insurance agency. “This legislation is a good first step toward a broader solution.”

A spokesman for Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

The strong legislative support was lauded by local housing advocates like the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.

“We’re hopeful others in the South Carolina delegation will realize the changes created by Biggert-Waters is making homes and commercial properties unaffordable,” said Owen Tyler, president of the group. “This is not a coastal issue, but a major issue that affects homeowners throughout the state and country.”

He added that “Congress needs to act” to give the Federal Emergency Management Agency “the time it needs to study affordability.”

Several pieces of Biggert-Waters law have been enacted since last year.

The law has received a lot scrutiny in recent weeks. The upheaval followed the Oct. 1 rule that eliminates rate subsidies for homes built before the first flood map the next time those properties sell.

Gov. Nikki Haley asked the state’s congressional delegation in a recent letter to allow subsidized premiums for sold homes. Previously, a Charleston County legislative committee recommended local lawmakers to push for more review of the consequences of the rate changes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.

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