NEW ORLEANS - Responding to what many call "unbelievable" rates through the National Flood Insurance Program, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers announced Tuesday proposed legislation to delay the implementation of those policy prices.
In Bayou Gauche in St. Charles Parish, NFIP policy holder Robert Taylor says he's facing a yearly rate of $15,500. His most recent rate was roughly $400 a year.
"Nobody here can afford the kind of figures FEMA and the NFIP are suggesting," said Taylor.
Taylor is one of more than 500,000 policies in the state of Louisiana, but many more states are staring down situations similar to his. On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats from both Houses of Congress representing several regions of the country stood together in agreement that the rate increases must at least be delayed.
"This is a threat to the economic well being of many communities whether, it's North Dakota, Louisiana or the East Coast," said Senator Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana.
The so called Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act is expected to be formally introduced next week. Some of the actions in the proposed legislation would give homeowners an avenue to appeal FEMA flood mappings that determine their flood insurance rates. But the most immediate impact would be the delay of the increased rates by at least two years.
The National Flood Insurance Program's finances have struggled in the aftermath of massive payouts following hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita. Legislation passed last year to overhaul the NFIP triggered the rate hikes as a way to shore up the program's solvency. Lawmakers pushing for an affordability act by FEMA and a delaying of the rate increases say middle class policy holders can't shoulder the load for the program.
"We'll never get to solvency if we have tens or hundreds of thousands of people getting out of the system," said Senator David Vitter, R-Louisiana.
Back in Bayou Gauche, where there are more than 900, many falling under the NFIP, there's a fragile optimism that Congress can prevent the rate hikes. Already, residents say property values have dropped. Selling their homes will be nearly impossible since no potential buyer could foot annual flood insurance rates of $15,000-$20,000 a year. Robert Taylor says he’d be grateful for any help from Congress, but it must be timely. Taylor fears delaying the rate increases two or even four years would not be enough.
"My concern, and it's a real probability, is a solution won't happen in time before our home, our community, is gone," said Taylor.