WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., joined colleagues on a Senate committee Thursday in calling for an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program.

The NFIP contains 500,000 participants in Louisiana.

Homeowners and businesses in flood zones that have

problems getting private coverage can obtain insurance backed by the federal government.

The program is set to expire Sept. 30.

Vitter and several members of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee want the program, handled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to receive a multiyear extension.

The program has been hampered over the last several years and is now suffering an $18 billion loss mostly due to payments made after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Vitter said he is concerned about how policies are being written near levees.

Vitter criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which he said is walking away from its historic role of certifying levees. Vitter called the need to rely on local jurisdictions to handle the levees “unworkable.”

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told the panel that the agency’s remapping of the flood areas will be based on all existing structures.

“That’s enormously important,” Vitter said. “The post Katrina system isn’t working.”

Vitter also asked for FEMA to increase its coverage of properties, a formula that hasn’t changed since 1994. Policies provide up to $250,000 in support for homes and $100,000 for contents.

Fugate acknowledged that the update is necessary due to inflation.

“We have property out there that we don’t cover the complete replacement costs for that property because of the coverage limits,” Fugate said.

Vitter noted that the threat of the program not being extended last June resulted in 47,000 home closings being potentially delayed.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told Fugate that 12 percent of participants in the program have homes worth $1 million.

Those property owners should pay the full cost of coverage, Shelby said.

FEMA should also update its flood maps, some that are decades old, Shelby said.

Shelby said he would also like to see the program involve more private companies, a move that Fugate said he supports.