Trump Border Wall

The Capitol is seen at day's end as the Senate works on a House-passed bill that would pay for President Donald Trump's border wall and avert a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Congress has approved a short-term extension for the nation's government-backed flood insurance program for the 10th time in 15 months, authorizing it until May 31, 2019.

While lawmakers were unable to keep the government up and running Friday night, they did manage to approve a five-month extension for the National Flood Insurance Program. It had been set to expire at midnight Friday.

Long-term approval for the program expired Sept. 30, 2017; lawmakers have put off a significant overhaul of the program, instead opting for stop-gap funding measures as they attempt to resolve the program’s growing debt.

The NFIP underwrites most flood coverage in the U.S. and has slipped into billions of dollars of debt following several years of destructive hurricanes. Critics of the program and lawmakers from flood-prone states have disagreed on the program’s benefits and how to balance funding with protecting homeowners in high-risk areas.

Program authorization goes through the House Financial Services Committee, led by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who is retiring at the end of the year. Hensarling has pushed for lawmakers to reduce the program’s subsidies for high-risk homeowners and require that policyholders pay premiums at market rates.

Louisiana lawmakers have pushed back on that idea, arguing rate hikes would make coverage unaffordable for many families, and force homeowners to choose between insurance coverage and other necessary living expenses. Increased insurance rates could also drive down home prices in higher flood-risk areas and erase equity for longtime homeowners.

Louisiana Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, both Republicans, have pushed for longer term extensions to the flood insurance program, hoping to provide Louisiana families more stability as they await a longer-term funding solution. In a statement, Kennedy said 5 million Americans will benefit.

“I don’t have to tell anyone in Louisiana how important the National Flood Insurance Program is,” Kennedy said. “Now we can work on long-term reforms. We can make the program sustainable without it becoming unaffordable.”

Reauthorization of the NFIP wasn’t the only flood insurance news out of Washington this weekend. FEMA sent a letter dated Friday to Gov. John Bel Edwards confirming homeowners receiving both Small Business Administration loans and Community Development Block Grant funding for flood repairs won’t be subject to a prohibition against duplication of benefits.

Disbursement of flood-related funds has been delayed while Louisiana officials waited on guidance from Trump officials on how the federal government would handle the program. Congress changed federal law in October to allow 2016 Louisiana flood victims to access funds from both programs, but Louisiana officials wanted to ensure there would be no back-end issues.

The FEMA letter informed the governor a waiver from President Donald J. Trump is not necessary for both a loan and grant to be issued to the same individual.

It hasn't been determined whether individuals can use federal grant dollars to pay down an SBA loan, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is expected to weigh in, according to the FEMA letter.


Follow Katie Gagliano on Twitter, @katie_gagliano.