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Waters Calls on Congress to Address the National Flood Insurance Program

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Washington, DC, November 19, 2013 | comments
Today, at a hearing to examine the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), Congresswoman Maxine Waters¸ Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, asked FEMA administrator Craig Fugate tough questions about its implementation of the NFIP, and why he had not notified lawmakers of dramatic rate increases that many are experiencing as a result of changes to the Program. Waters also discussed bipartisan, bicameral legislation that will ensure FEMA engages in an accurate, responsible remapping process and force the implementation of an affordability study that should have been completed last April. Her opening statement is below. 

As prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I am very pleased that this committee is holding a hearing on this important matter today.

In 2012, when I initially agreed to be a coauthor of the Biggert-Waters Act, our goal was to create a bipartisan solution to repair our ailing National Flood Insurance Program.  I did so because I understand the importance of the program for people living in flood-prone regions. The program helped rebuild many areas in the southeastern part of the United States after Katrina, Rita and Isaac.  And it’s helping New York and New Jersey rebuild after Superstorm Sandy.  We need a healthy Program to ensure all communities have a safety net that helps them pick up the pieces should they experience such devastation.

But the reality is many of these unforeseen catastrophes crushed the program financially – putting it $24 billion dollars in debt.  The Biggert-Waters flood insurance legislation was designed to update the National Flood Insurance Program and put it on a path to stability through a five-year extension and a 10-year repayment plan.

The law was supported on a bipartisan basis and I think I can speak for my Republican colleagues when I say – neither Democrats nor Republicans envisioned it would inflict the pain and concern that many Americans are experiencing.

In my view, it didn’t have to be this way. Mr. Fugate, I believe FEMA cut corners and did not complete two important tasks that were central points to the Biggert-Waters legislation. First, the law called for FEMA to improve the accuracy of its mapping process. And most importantly, the Agency was required to complete an affordability study that would give Congress a sense of how rate increases would impact the cost of flood insurance for ordinary Americans and what could be done to address affordability.

But FEMA decided not to complete either one of these tasks. Instead, it just announced dramatic rate increases for many of its policyholders.

Mr. Chairman, I hope the majority of our time here today can be used to discuss how we fix this broken program. As many of you know, I have joined Congressman Grimm, Congressman Cedric Richmond of New Orleans and 131 other Members of Congress in introducing bipartisan legislation that would delay many premium increases for four years until FEMA – and Congress – can ensure changes will be implemented in an affordable, responsible manner.

As you can see, a number of these cosponsors not on this committee have joined us here today – including Representatives Cedric Richmond; Bobby Scott of Virginia; Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; Water Jones of North Carolina; and many others are expected shortly.

This is a bipartisan, bicameral effort that will ensure FEMA engages in an accurate and responsible remapping process, by forcing it to certify that maps are accurate and reliable. And, Mr. Fugate, it will force the implementation of the affordability study your agency should have completed last April.

The bill would mandate that FEMA propose an affordability framework to address flood insurance costs within 18 months after the completion of the study. And it would establish a Flood Insurance Advocate within FEMA – who will answer our constituents’ questions about the flood mapping process and flood insurance rates. 

Mr. Chairman, we are going to make sure FEMA implements this program in a responsible and affordable way.

I look forward to the witnesses’ testimony and a robust discussion to ensure we have a well-organized and sustainable National Flood Insurance Program that will continue to be affordable and ensure hundreds of thousands of American families have the peace of mind to know they’re protected in case of a disaster.

I yield back.

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