The fate of the National Flood Insurance Program is hanging in the balance once again, and local experts are getting fed up with the uncertainty.
“This is extremely, extremely frustrating,” Joe Rossi, chairman of the Massachusetts Coastal Coalition, said Wednesday. “It’s not just frustrating for the residents we serve, or for me as an agent or advocate, but it’s frustrating for everyone because it never ends.”
The flood insurance program expired last Friday, Nov. 30 and lapsed for about 11 hours before President Donald Trump signed a bill that included a seven-day extension, realigning the program with the larger government spending bill deadline facing Congress this Friday.
The extension saved the program for the next seven days but wasn’t ideal, Rossi said, as the program’s connection to overall government spending is a large part of what caused the program’s problems in the first place.
The flood insurance program was separated from the larger government spending bill earlier this year as part of a deal to keep it alive through hurricane season while leaders in Washington fought over other, more partisan parts of the appropriations bill. By re-linking the two, Rossi says it opens the doors for the program to be caught up in Washington gridlock once again
“We have all these political issues playing into this now, and one change in politics could effect the program,” Rossi said.
If Congress doesn’t meet the Friday deadline for a new appropriations bill, the government will go into a shut down. If that happens, the program will lapse for the fourth time this year.
Rossi said he is expecting a vote Friday that will extend the program two more weeks. In the interim, he is encouraging policy holders to be prepared. If the program lapses for any meaningful amount of time, new policies won’t be able to be issued and current policy holders won’t be able to renew.
“Pay for your flood insurance now,” he said. “We have people who will wait and go into a grace period in their policy, but we don’t want to play around. If your policy is coming up for renewal in the next 30 days: pay it by Friday. That’s the bottom line.”
Lapses in January and March were the first lapses since 2010. A short-term extension this July was the seventh granted to the program since it first expired in October 2017, but it eliminated reforms Rossi and others in the industry were pushing for.
Rossi is hoping the two week extension will be granted Friday, and that when that expires a six-month extension will be granted. In those six months, advocates and lawmakers would push hard for meaningful reforms to be included in a long-term extension.
“Congress has not focused on National Flood Insurance Program reform since early 2017, so we are talking two years almost,” Rossi said. “We need an extension, but we need a congress that focuses. We’ve continuously been given four- or six-month extensions, but nobody talks about the prgram in that time.”
The flood insurance program, started in 1956, became a hot-button issue on the South Shore in 2013 when the Federal Emergency Management Agency released new flood maps for Marshfield, Scituate and Duxbury that help set the rates and determine which owners must buy flood insurance. Later, maps for other South Shore communities, including Quincy, also caused an uproar.
Reach Mary Whitfill at firstname.lastname@example.org.