April 28, 2010 / 12:33 PM / 9 years ago

Congress panel backs flood insurance overhaul

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bill to overhaul the troubled National Flood Insurance Program, which covers more than five million homes and businesses in flood-prone areas, was approved on Tuesday by a congressional committee.

The bill, if approved in the full House and Senate, would reauthorize the program for five years and delay implementation of new rate maps for flood zones so homeowners newly included in a flood zone do not face an immediate new insurance cost.

The bill also calls for a range of administrative changes meant to make the program function more efficiently, said Democratic Representative Maxine Waters, who chairs a subcommittee that has worked on the issue.

“The focus on NFIP should be on providing coverage for those vulnerable to natural disasters, not to subsidize the wealthiest Americans, so we are phasing out premium subsidies for second homes and vacation homes, which will save the program a lot of money,” Waters said in a statement.

The bill was approved by the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, of which Waters is a member.

Big insurers with a stake in the flood insurance debate include Allstate, Travelers, Hartford Financial Services and Fidelity National Financial.

The program has been deep in debt ever since the costly hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005. Repeated rescue efforts have failed. Reform legislation stalled in Congress last year in a fight over adding wind-damage coverage to the program. The House wanted to add it, but the Senate did not.

The NFIP is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and provides flood coverage through more than 90 companies that sell policies and collect premiums on the government’s behalf for a fee. The premiums go to FEMA.

“A long-term reauthorization of the NFIP is extremely important, especially for Americans living in flood-prone areas,” said Blain Rethmeier, spokesman for the American Insurance Association, an industry group.

“The recent lapses in the NFIP due to the use of short-term extensions has caused disruptions to homeowners, businesses and hindered real estate closings nationwide. We applaud the committee for moving forward on a long-term NFIP reauthorization, which will bring stability to the market.”

Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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