BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - More than 5 million homes and businesses are covered by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and nearly half a million of those are in Louisiana. With the program set to expire September 30, Congress is looking at options to extend and improve it.
The latest proposal comes from six U.S. Senators from both sides of the aisle, led by Louisiana Senator John Kennedy and New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. "The people of Louisiana and the American people deserve a National Flood Insurance Program that looks like somebody designed the thing on purpose," said Kennedy in a press conference with reporters.
The bill, introduced by the senators, is called the Safe National Flood Insurance Reauthorization Act. Primarily, it would extend the program for six years, cap premium increases at 10 percent for homeowners, and save an estimated $750 million per year.
To read the full bill, click here.
Kennedy says the savings will be collected in two ways. First, the bill suspends the program's annual $400 million debt interest payment. Second, it caps a commission paid to private insurance companies who administer the program. The money saved, according to Kennedy, can be used to update flood mapping with more advanced and accurate technology, and help prevent flooding in the first place by paying for flood mitigation projects.
"We're going to do it through programs like low interest loans for people who want to elevate their homes. We'll fund flood walls, we'll fund levees," said Kennedy.
The bill also gives FEMA the authority to fire consultants, engineers, or contractors hired by private insurance companies who "act in bad faith," or act in a way that purposefully hurts the NFIP, by doing things such as filing false information about flood damage. However, Kennedy admits the plan will likely face opposition in Congress, particularly among leaders whose states do not experience frequent flooding.
LSU Law Professor Edward Richards, who has extensive knowledge of the NFIP, has his own criticisms. "If you're concerned about incentivizing high risk construction, about dealing with repetitive loss properties, it's a disaster," said Richards.
Richards says the current NFIP encourages development in high risk areas, which only leads to more damage when disaster strikes. He believes any reform should also limit new building in flood zones. "You sort of have to look at the human suffering that comes when you fool people into thinking that where they live is safe by giving them a permit to build by subsiding their flood insurance," said Richards.
To his critics, Kennedy says under the right circumstances, flooding can strike anywhere, which is why the NFIP is important. "There are some senators who represent states who have not had a flood disaster yet, but as I've explained to my colleagues, your day may come," said Kennedy.
Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy filed his own bill that extends the NFIP for 10 years and moves more towards privatized insurance options.