Congressman Pete Olson

Representing the 22nd District of Texas

Federal flood insurance program needs common sense reforms

November 20, 2013
Op-Ed
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 10:13 am

Residents of Fort Bend remember all too well the devastation that blew through our region five years ago when Hurricane Ike hit. This was not our first major hurricane, and sadly it will not be our last. As a Gulf Coast community, we stay vigilant and prepared for hurricane season.

Fort Bend County has taken many steps to invest in and protect the 140,000-plus residents and their properties within those levees, structures conservatively estimated to be worth some $10 billion. All Fort Bend levees are certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and are high enough to protect homes from a 100-year flood. Many of our residents who live outside the levees and face flood risks have purchased insurance to reduce that risk. In short, our community has done the right thing. Nationally, however, the federal flood insurance program is tens of billions of dollars in debt because of costly storms like Katrina and Sandy.

Last year, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act, which was written to try to strengthen the flood insurance program by moving it toward more risk-based pricing. Since FEMA granted subsidized rates to homes built before flood risks were fully known, the idea was to slowly shift rates for all homeowners up to premiums that fully reflect the chances of a 100 year flood and lessen the potential burden on taxpayers. Some in Congress wanted to go even further and force costly and unnecessary plans upon residents who live safely behind levees, but in working with my colleagues and House leadership, we were able to stop what would have been an incredible and unnecessary drain on the residents of Fort Bend and other Texas counties.

We stopped this worst-case scenario. However, as currently written, the Biggert-Waters Act will still have significant and negative consequences. Homes not protected by levees will see sharp rate increases over the next five years. Equally troubling, thousands of homeowners nationwide will see an immediate hike in their rates. As a result, the price for flood insurance will escalate so high that it will become impossible for many to stay in or sell their home.

I am working closely with federal, state and local officials to minimize the impacts to homeowners in Fort Bend County. The federal flood insurance program needs reforming, but that should not mean that residents should be forced out of their homes because of sudden, dramatic rate increases in excess of 1,000 percent are set for parts of Fort Bend.

While we work to improve the National Flood Insurance Program, there must be a proper balance that allows the program to become financially stable without pricing homeowners out of their homes. As a first step, the House passed legislation to delay the rate hikes until a better system is in place, and the Senate should act and do the same. In addition, Congress should pass legislation like HR 3370, which delays the implementation of the controversial rate hikes until FEMA can complete a study on the affordability of flood insurance, consider options to keep insurance affordable as the program transitions, reimburse homeowners for successful map appeals, and eliminate penalties on communities that choose to self-finance their flood protection.

A delay is important, but common sense reforms are still needed. We are working hard in the House to provide meaningful solutions that protect both homeowners and taxpayers. I will continue to work with local leaders to find the best solution for our region and the nation at large.