Washington, DC—Today Congressman Brian Higgins voted against H.R. 4973, the Flood Insurance Reform bill. While Higgins supported the goals of this legislation, which are to provide the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) with the resources it needs to pay its claims to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and to reform the NFIP to place it on sustainable long-term viability, he believes those goals cannot be reached at the expense of communities and homeowners who should not be in the flood maps. Several provisions of this bill will have a hugely negative impact on the Western New York communities that Higgins represents.
“I would have welcomed the opportunity to vote solely on the provision to increase the funding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency can borrow in order to ensure that Katrina victims receive the funds they are owed, and I have supported several efforts to increase FEMA’s borrowing authority for this purpose,” said Higgins. “I have also supported tremendous increases in community development funding for Katrina-impacted areas, and I fought hard against the Administration’s ill-conceived proposal to deny workers in the reconstruction effort the benefit of federal wage protection law.
Higgins continued, “Yet for all that was right in this bill, it fails to address some of the most pressing and problematic aspects of the NFIP, such as the extent to which some areas served by the program which seldom flood and seldom receive benefits must subsidize other areas which more frequently flood and more frequently receive benefits. Additionally, I am concerned that the bill does nothing to cushion the blow of mandatory flood insurance premiums to low income senior citizens or other, similarly situated persons. Additionally, when floods very often hit areas which had not been designated as having significant flood hazards, and while areas which have the 100-year flood designation have never been inundated, I have serious concerns about the accuracy of current flood mapping processes and procedures. While this bill would increase funding to increase the quantity of flood mapping, it would not sufficiently improve the science to increase the quality of flood mapping.”
Specific to the Buffalo-area communities in the 27th district, Higgins is strongly opposed to the provision in the bill directing the Comptroller General to study a mandatory purchase requirement for the natural 100-year floodplain. In the City of Buffalo, in the neighborhoods of South Buffalo and Kaisertown, an area has been designated as a 100-year floodplain by FEMA. This area is now protected by a number of man-made improvements designed expressly to protect against one-hundred floods, so Higgins is working toward the goal of having FEMA remove the 100-year floodplain designation from these areas, and with it, the concomitant burden of mandatory flood insurance premiums. In fact, in 1972 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said “the area would be protected from a flood stage having a recurrence interval of 100 years,” yet this bill would not only keep the area under 100-year designation, but would also allow the cost to no-risk homeowners to rise. To vote to advance legislation including the area in the 100-year floodplain designation would be inconsistent with Higgins’ efforts to have the designation removed in light of the flood prevention work that has been done there.
Higgins is further concerned with provisions in this bill which would raise the maximum amount of coverage. This provision would cause insured homeowners in low-cost housing markets, such as Buffalo, to subsidize homeowners in high-cost housing markets. This provision is regressive and contrary to the interests of Western New Yorkers.
Higgins agrees that the NFIP needs to be reformed so that those truly at risk bear the cost of flood insurance. “By including communities that are at no or little risk of flooding, this bill has the unintended consequence of forcing struggling communities, like the one I represent, to subsidize the cost of flood insurance across the country,” added Higgins. “That is not a just outcome, and it is one I will continue to oppose until NFIP flood maps represent what really goes on in a community and until low risk communities are not forced to subsidize high risk communities.”