Cassidy, Kennedy unveil NFIP reauthorization bill

John Dupont
U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy addresses Ascension Parish citizens at a town hall meeting in 2017.

Louisiana's two U.S senators led a bipartisan group of senators and representatives in the unveiling of bicameral legislation to extend the National Flood Insurance Program for five years, which will include a series of reforms.

Federal lawmakers must vote on the package before the current reauthorization expires Sept. 30.

More than 455,000 residents across Louisiana are covered through the NFIP.

The National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization and Reform Act takes steps to improve accountability, affordability and sustainability of the NFIP, Cassidy and Kennedy said on Tuesday.

The legislation also reflects principles outlined in a letter to the Senate Banking Committee – led by Cassidy and signed by Kennedy – which demands action on the reauthorization and reform.

Renewal of the program is critical for homeowners in flood-prone states, but reforms are necessary to ensure the program's sustainability, Dr. Cassidy said.

"The legislation ensures the NFIP works for the homeowners who depend on it," he said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. "The reforms in this bill are critical to any reauthorization effort to make the program sustainable and prevent families from being hit with drastic premium increases."

The Joining Cassidy and Kennedy in introducing this legislation to the U.S. Senate are U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

U.S. Representatives Clay Higgins (R-LA-03) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) are also introducing bipartisan companion legislation to the U.S. House of Representatives along with U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), Charlie Crist (D-FL), and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL).

The NFIP Re Act builds upon the bipartisan, comprehensive Flood Insurance Affordability and Sustainability Act introduced by Cassidy and the Sustainable, Affordable, Fair, and Efficient (SAFE) National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act introduced by Kennedy. The new legislation addresses critical problems with the program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), including: sustainability, low participation rates, inaccurate flood maps, indifference to the benefits of flood control infrastructure, agency mismanagement, unsustainable debt service costs and contractor profiteering.

Reauthorization is also critical in Louisiana's role as a key figure on national and world commerce, Kennedy said.

"More than five million Americans depend on the National Flood Insurance Program to protect their homes and businesses. For many people, this program is as essential as air and water," Sen. Kennedy said. "Louisiana has been home to people for centuries. Louisiana energy jobs are helping the U.S. end its reliance on foreign oil. Through common sense reforms, we can create a flood insurance program that continues to protect people's homes at affordable rates while remaining solvent."

The reauthorization provides a comprehensive means-tested voucher for millions of low and middle-income homeowners and renters if their flood insurance premium causes their housing costs to exceed 30 percent of their Adjusted Gross Income, significantly increasing the affordability of the NFIP program.

It also freezes interest payments on the NFIP debt and reinvests savings toward mitigation efforts to restore the program to solvency and reduce future borrowing.

The renewal package also increases the maximum limit for ICC coverage to better reflect the costs of rebuilding and implementing mitigation projects. In addition, ICC coverage eligibility is expanded in order to encourage more proactive mitigation before natural disasters strike.

It also fundamentally reforms the claims process to level the playing field for policyholders during appeal or litigation, bans aggressive legal tactics preventing homeowners from filing legitimate claims, holds FEMA to strict deadlines so that homeowners get quick and fair payments, and ends FEMA's reliance on outside legal counsel from expensive for-profit entities.