Congress extends flood insurance program through hurricane season

(Reuters) - The U.S. Congress extended the National Flood Insurance program on Tuesday for another fourth months, providing coverage through the hurricane season.

The Senate voted to extend the program through November 31 in a 86-12 vote, hours before the program was to expire. The House approved the bill last week.

This extension marks the latest short-term extension for the bill. Without the extension, the program would have been stalled, halting purchases of new and expiring insurance and potentially hurting housing markets where flood insurance is needed to get a mortgage.

The National Flood Insurance Program has $20 billion in debt, even after $16 billion was canceled last year.

Advocates praised the extension, but again raised the critical need for long-term reform of the program as flood damage from hurricanes worsens.

Last year, the United States was hit by two of the worst storms, as measured by property damage covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, in four decades.

The Insurance Information Institute found in a 2016 poll that 12 percent of homeowners had flood insurance policies.

“We’ve been here again and again,” said R.J. Lehmann, director of finance, insurance and trade policy at the R Street Institute, a nonprofit policy research organization.

Lehmann said that since September, the program has been extended seven times.

SmarterSafer, a coalition of environmental, taxpayer, insurance and housing organizations including R Street, said in a statement that Congress should stop allowing short-term extensions to “reinforce the status quo,” and for a “smarter, safer and more robust system of flood insurance to protect the people and property in the path of severe weather events.”

Reporting by Kara Carlson