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Mainers Facing Flood Insurance Rate Hikes
01/16/2014   Reported By: Tom Porter

Some 3,000 Mainers face hikes in their flood insurance rates, as federal subsidies for that type of coverage are being phased out. The cuts were passed in 2012, as the federal flood insurance program is $24 billion in the red in the wake of a series of hurricanes and other disasters over the past decade. A provision contained in the new federal budget proposal would delay some premium increases until this October. But another measure under consideration would go much further. Tom Porter reports.

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Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are getting behind a measure to suspend these rate hikes for four years while the Federal Emergency Management Agency tries to find ways to soften the blow. Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree is among the co-sponsors of a bill to do just that.

Rep. Chellie Pingree: "The reason I signed on to this bill, and that I think it's important, is it delays some of these flood insurance rate changes that could be extremely challenging for many coastal communities in Maine. It requires FEMA to complete an affordability study of these new rates so we'll have a better sense of, you know, is it even possible that people could pay some of these rates? Given the amount coastline that we have and the number of communities that have buildings that been along the coast that have been there for a very long time, this is a really important issue to Maine."

Tom Porter: "You say FEMA needs to take a closer look at the impact these hikes would have, but they have spent quite some time taking a closer look at the actual maps and updating them, and giving an idea of the rates that would have to be paid. So saying that they need to find a way of making them more affordable seems like something that could be a lot easier said than done."

Rep. Chellie Pingree: "That is very true. But I think one of the reasons we are looking at this issue so seriously in Maine is that one of the reasons flood insurance is being reformed is much more related to some of the challenges that have happened in southern states: people building on sand dunes, people building in places that are more vulnerable to extreme weather. The difference about Maine is we have buildings, fishing communities, that have been on the coast for literally hundreds of years, more than a 100 years, and to put the burden of the cost on us, in the same way that's being done in other places, I just think puts us a very difficult position."

Tom Porter: "But isn't the bottom line here the fact that we are seeing a lot more events like Katrina, Sandy, floods, storms, that kind of thing, because of what's happening with the global climate? And someone's got pay for this, and the government's fund has run out - in fact, it's billions of dollars in the red."

Rep. Chellie Pingree: "Look, this is a very challenging issue. Given the increasing number of these weather events, the sea level change, we do have more challenges on the coastline. But many communities in Maine, many communities based on fishing or based on summer visitors, they have been doing this for over a hundred years - they aren't the cause of global warming or extreme weather. And to put the burden of cost on those communities? I just think we have to take a much closer look at it. I understand it's a difficult problem and it's costing lot of money, but it's not the fault of a lot of little coastal communities in Maine."

Tom Porter: "Opponents have said that this would be a terrible precedent because it may mean the reform may never be allowed to go into effect and taxpayers will be left holding the bag. In a sense isn't this just delaying what needs to be paid?"

Rep. Chellie Pingree: "I think there's more than one way to look at this, and, again, I think treating every state or every problem equally when many of our coastal communities have been there for generations, for a long time, I just think it's not fair."

That was 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree talking earlier from her office in Washington D.C. This week, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act is expected to come before the U.S. Senate, where Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins is a co-sponsor.

House speaker John Boehner today is quoted as saying that the GOP-controlled House won't take up the proposal.

In a statement to MPBN late this afternoon, Pingree describes Boehner's position as "very disappointing." She adds, "This is significant problem and this bill has bipartisan support. I hope the speaker reconsiders that position."


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