WASHINGTON — With the National Flood Insurance Program nearing its latest expiration date, members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation are pushing a bipartisan proposal to reauthorize the program for five years, putting an end to the cycle of short-term extensions that have plagued the program since 2017.
“Flooding is not a Republican issue. It is not a Democratic issue,” U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge Republican who is one of the key leaders of the effort, said Tuesday. “If you flooded, it is an American issue.
“If you want a program that is sustainable and accountable, that is an American issue,” he continued. “We think we achieve that with this legislation.”
The proposal unveiled Tuesday is separate from a bipartisan bill the House Financial Services Committee passed last month, but it sets the stage for the two chambers to try to come up with a compromise for the program, which covers 5 million policyholders, more than half a million of them in Louisiana.
The latest temporary extension of the NFIP — the program's 12th since 2017 — is set to expire at the end of September.
"Let's debate it and see what we can do," said U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville.
Kennedy said the goal is to strike the right balance between integrity and affordability.
“It doesn’t do any good to offer flood insurance to people if they can’t afford it," he said.
Louisiana's U.S. senators have questioned whether the House proposal checks off all the boxes on the NFIP overhaul wish list, but other interested parties have deemed it a compromise that could finally end the cycle of stopgap reauthorizations while bigger issues are addressed.
The Senate proposal calls for increased funding for expanded and improved flood mapping and mitigation programs and tweaks to payment and appeals processes that have been cumbersome for some policyholders.
It also would put a cap on levels that premiums can increase from year to year at 9%. To pay for the changes, the bill would freeze interest payments on NFIP's debt and put those savings toward mitigation projects.
Cassidy said mitigation is a key component of the proposal.
Catastrophic flooding in 2016 across Louisiana left thousands of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. This year, communities along the Mississippi River and across the Midwest have been subject to historic flooding.
Congress has, for years, struggled with balancing the program’s efficiency with maintaining affordability to homeowners. The Government Accountability Office has included the NFIP on its high risk list because Congress hasn’t struck a sustainable balance on the program.
Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who is also leading the NFIP effort, said he worried the House version of the bill could price out some homeowners, so he hopes the Senate version will pass and differences can be worked out in negotiations.
“We can make the program more sustainable," he said.