Congresswoman Waters on the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011
On July 12, 2011, the House of Representatives passed HR 1309, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011 by a vote of 406-22. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an original co-sponsor of the bill and the leading advocate for flood insurance reform in the House, worked closely with Chairwoman Judy Biggert to craft the bill and to ensure passage off the House floor. Rep. Waters delivered the statement below in support of the legislation.
"I rise today in strong support of H.R. 1309, the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011. Before I begin my remarks, I would like to thank Chairman Spencer Bachus, Chairwoman Judy Biggert, and Ranking Member Barney Frank for their assistance and support with this bill. We were able to work in a bipartisan manner on this bill in our Committee, passing it on a vote of 54-0. The spirit of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on this bill has been extremely welcome and this is why I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill.
Mr. Chairman, earlier this year I introduced similar legislation, H.R. 1026, the Flood Insurance Reform Priorities Act. A version of my bill passed the House last year on a bipartisan vote and I hope that the bill offered by the gentlewoman from Illinois will also pass the House with significant support from both parties.
The flood insurance program is more important now than ever before. Floods are the most common natural disaster and flood insurance is the most effective means for helping families to rebuild after a flood. Therefore, it is vital that flood insurance remain accessible, affordable, and available to the 5.5 million homeowners with policies and the many more who may want or need to purchase them.
Unfortunately, the lack of a long-term authorization has placed the flood insurance program at risk. The program lapsed three times last year. These lapses meant that FEMA was not able to write new policies, renew expiring policies, or increase coverage limits.
Given the current crisis in the housing market, this instability in the flood insurance program is unacceptable and must be addressed. I am pleased that the gentlewoman's bill not only reauthorizes the program for 5 years, but also provides the program with the tools it needs to return to a strong financial footing while protecting homeowners.
The bill also addresses the impact of new flood maps on communities. The mapping process has caused confusion and financial strain on homeowners who now find themselves in flood zones and subject to mandatory purchase requirements.
I saw this first-hand in my home city of Los Angeles. Last year, I was able to assist homeowners in the Park Mesa Heights area of the city who had been mistakenly placed in a flood zone. In that case, FEMA acted quickly to respond to new data and correct the mistake. However, there are thousands of homeowners nationwide who now find themselves in flood zones and subject to mandatory purchase requirements.
The gentlewoman's bill would ease the financial strain on newly mapped homeowners by allowing for a 3-year delay of the mandatory purchase requirement and allows for a 5-year phase-in of actuarial rates afterwards. In addition, I know that the gentleman from Alabama, the Chairman of the Committee, will be offering an amendment similar to one that I offered at markup that would extend the 3-year delay to 5 years. I know that the gentleman has worked with a bipartisan coalition of Members of the House Levee Caucus, led by Mr. Costello of Illinois, and I look forward to passage of that amendment.
To make sure that FEMA issues the most accurate maps, the bill establishes a Technical Mapping Advisory Council. By improving the mapping process, the Council would prevent instances of erroneous flood maps—like the one I encountered in Park Mesa Heights.
The bill also makes other improvements to the program by phasing in actuarial rates for pre-FIRM properties, raising maximum coverage limits, providing notice to renters about contents insurance, and allowing homeowners that receive letters of map amendment to be reimbursed for their costs.
Mr. Chairman, I believe that Mrs. Biggert and I have produced a good bill that will protect homeowners, the flood insurance program, and taxpayers. I hope that we can pass this bill today and that the Senate takes up flood insurance reform in short order so that we do not risk another lapse when the program expires on September 30th of this year. Again, I thank the gentlewoman from Illinois for her work on this bill and I strongly urge an aye vote."