Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
The National Flood Insurance Program is set to expire Friday, December 18, stopping many real estate transactions if the full Congress doesn't act to stop it.
Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Senator David Vitter successfully pushed through yet another short-term extension of the program in the Senate. The House still had to vote on it.
Just about every homeowner who lived through Hurricane Katrina in 2005 knows what flood insurance means for recovery. These days, getting it is often a requirement for buying a home.
'In 2010, the National Flood Insurance Program was actually allowed to expire four different times for a period of 53 days. Everytime that happened, good real estate closings were cancelled,' Vitter said.
Senator Vitter is pushing for an extension of the program through May 31, 2012. The move is expected to make it through both the House and Senate before the program expires. It's a step real estate experts say is key.
'It's very important for the program to get fixed, but you have to extend it first to allow real estate markets to function,' said real estate consultant Wade Ragas.
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana homeowners made billions of dollars in flood insurance claims to try and rebuild. It's one of the reasons the NFIP now has an $18 billion dollar deficit. '$15 billion of that $18 billion was paid to policy holders in Louisiana for Katrina and Rita losses in 2005. So, it was really those two events that drove the program into the red,' said Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.
Already in recent years, flood insurance premiums have been climbing, especially in Orleans Parish, affecting how much home buyers can afford to spend.
'It is getting more expensive. So, households are having to pay more. It's still not as high as it will probably go in the future,' Ragas said.
The push in Congress is to make the NFIP self-funded, with premiums covering the program's costs. And that means they'll likely go up.
How much and how fast is why a more permanent extension of the program keeps getting pushed back. But for now, experts agree, a temporary one is needed to keep the slow-moving real estate market from grinding to a halt.
The House has already passed a more sweeping, six-year expansion of the program. The Senate is still negotiating details of their version of the reforms, which is why they're hoping to extend the existing program through May 31st.