Locals voice concerns about flood insurance rates at U.S. Senate field hearing

Locals voice concerns about flood insurance rates at U.S. Senate field hearing

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - U.S. Sen. David Vitter believes the president's climate agenda could drive up flood insurance rates and hurt the ongoing recovery in Louisiana.

On Friday, dozens of local property owners showed up for a Senate committee field hearing focusing on flood insurance and hosted by Vitter at the University of New Orleans. Vitter chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

As the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina nears, many homeowners and small business owners showed up for the public hearing and openly expressed their concerns about current and future insurance costs.

"Down here we have the seafood industry, oil and gas, the chemical industry, we need people to live here and they can't live here without flood insurance," said one speaker.

The 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season begins in June.

"Here the flood insurance program rates mapping is a huge impact on homeowners and on small businesses," said Vitter.

Not long ago, there was a storm of public outrage over the Biggert-Waters Act which would have had a lot of homeowners and businesses in South Louisiana paying astronomical flood insurance rates in an effort to keep the National Flood Insurance Program solvent.

But Congress intervened.

"Congress heard what the people had to say and slowed down the rate increases, and tried to make those more affordable, but in the end as I think you all know the rates are going up," Brad Kieserman, Deputy Associate Administrator for Federal Insurance with FEMA told the audience at UNO.

Edward Hunter, who lives in New Orleans East, is concerned about small businesses and his own homeowners flood insurance costs.

"Too much, too much, if you sell this house at today's market you really wouldn't recoup your money back," Hunter stated.

Others who attended fear what could be on the way.

"I'm retired, so it would be a huge burden on us, we're on a fixed income, so obviously that has an impact on us," said Jim Walter who lives in St. Tammany Parish.

FEMA officials said they know keeping rates affordable is critical.

"It was always by design meant to be a subsidized program, and now as we've gotten further, and now as we've gotten further and further into the program Congress has determined that we need to move from subsidized rates to actuararily sound rates," Kieserman stated.

Another concern is President Obama's January executive order which directed federal agencies to adopt tougher building and site standards that take into account projections that climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of flooding.

Something FEMA officials defended during the hearing, even as Vitter fears that what the president wants increase flood insurance rates.

"We want to make sure that when federal funds are used for projects in communities that we do build them higher, and stronger, so that the taxpayer doesn't need to come back and pay for that same building twice," said Roy Wright, Deputy Associate Administrator for Mitigation within FEMA.

And Sen. David Vitter believes that could have a chilling effect in areas of the state that are still trying to bounce back after Hurricane Katrina.

"It threatens to make a lot of activity unaffordable and it threatens to drive up a lot of investment, including federal investment that could have a huge negative hit to our economy," said Vitter.

Now the public comment period ends May 6 on the draft Federal Flood Risk Management Standards. Vitter has urged FEMA to extend the time for public input.

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