Vermonters protest flood insurance hikes
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | September 29,2013
MONTPELIER — Vermonters gathered Saturday on the Statehouse lawn to bring attention to the massive increases in flood insurance premiums expected Tuesday, and to call on Congress to stop it.
Similar rallies took place in 10 other states around the country, according to Vermont organizer Chris Winters. All of them aimed to curtail the effects of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.
The law called for changes to the National Flood Insurance Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Among the requirements was to raise rates to reflect true flood risk and make the program more financially stable. It also called for changes to FEMA flood maps.
Winters, who owns a home in Berlin along the Dog River, said the law is having a major, negative impact on homeowners across the country.
“It’s because of newly drawn maps and because of the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 that’s trying to balance the budget for FEMA, and they’re doing it on the backs of the policyholders,” he said.
Winters said he became involved after learning about the law’s impact on his own family from his mortgage company.
“We received a letter from our mortgage holder that we have to get flood insurance a couple of months ago. As we looked into it and looked into quotes we were shocked to find our bill was going to be $8,000 a year,” he said.
Now, Winters says he is trying to determine what his family will do. His home, a former sawmill built in 1848, did not flood during Tropical Storm Irene. Nonetheless, it is now considered to be in a high-risk flood zone based on new FEMA maps, Winters said.
“We can’t afford to move, because if we try to sell, who’s going to take on an additional $8,000 yearly bill?” he said. “So we’re in a really bad spot and we still don’t know what we’re going to do. The one thing we thought we could control is making some noise about this and letting people know.”
People who already have insurance policies will also see rate hikes. Rates for existing flood insurance will see a 25 percent increase in policy costs each year until they hit the new rates standard, according to Winters. The higher rates will also kick in if a home is sold, he said.
Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, attended the rally to show his support for alleviating the impacts on homeowners.
“It’s really unfair to hit people so hard with these big increases,” Pollina said. “It’s kind of like Congress does things without thinking about the impact on people who are already struggling.”
He said there is little the state can do other than urge Congress to address the issue.
“Congress did it and Congress needs to fix it,” Pollina said.
Vermont’s three-man congressional delegation is engaged, according to Winters. He said the delegation — Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernard Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch — have written to leaders in both the House and Senate urging a delay in the rate hikes until an affordability study that was required in the law is completed.
“Matching insurance rates to current flood risk is good policy,” the delegation wrote in a letter dated Sept. 27. “However, the new rates are hitting families and small businesses with unexpected and steep new rates. Therefore, we urge you to consider a postponement of these costly increases until FEMA can assure policyholders that the rates are fair.”
Winters said he hopes Congress will address the issue in a bipartisan manner.
“They’re distracted by a whole lot of things down there,” he said. “A lot of gamesmanship and budget things. It’s a mistake that they made and they all recognize it’s a mistake now. There are a lot of people behind this, both Republicans and Democrats. It was a bipartisan mistake. I’d like to see them do a bipartisan fix.”