NU Online News Service, April 5, 1:56 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON—Congress is in recess until April 16th, but action on flood insurance front remains quiet despite the fact that the latest extension on the current authorization expires at the end of May.
Industry officials say the primary problem remains with the Senate which has not acted on the legislation despite the fact its Banking Committee reported out a bipartisan bill to the floor last September.
An industry lobbyist with a vested interest in the legislation says that “Even if there is the need for a short-term extension to allow for a conference with the House, we need to see some forward progress in the Senate before May 31.
“Having nothing happening before then is unacceptable,” he adds.
What the insurance industry, as well as realtors, banks and credit unions want is a long-term extension of the National Flood Insurance Program for 5 years until 2016.
Authorization of the current program, passed in 2003, originally expired in 2008.
The latest extension, enacted into law just before Christmas, adds up to 15 last-minute NFIP reauthorizations since 2002, and the program was allowed to lapse for four extended periods.
Even worse, according to officials at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), the NFIP lapsed four times in 2010 and flood coverage could not be purchased or renewed for a total of 53 days.
Matt Gannon, assistant vice president of federal affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies says, “Once again, we’re just weeks away from the NFIP’s expiration and, once again, we’re waiting in frustration for the Senate to act on legislation which has strong, bipartisan support.”
He says that a “lapse in the program is unacceptable given the serious impact it could have on the housing market through delayed or cancelled sales, and all the more so as the program is set to expire just one day before the start of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season.”
The Senate bill has no name, but the House passed H.R. 1309 in July, the “Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011,” by an overwhelming majority. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill, would, among other provisions, extend the NFIP until Sept. 30, 2016.
Forty-one signatures have been secured on a letter from senators to the Senate leadership urging prompt action on the bill now in the hands of the Senate leadership.
The industry lobbyist who asked not to be named says he and officials of the companies he represents have recently talked to several people in the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“There is no philosophical issue involved, it’s really a question of how much floor time will this issue consume, and where it fits into the majority leader’s priorities,” the lobbyist said.
The lobbyist acknowledged that one of Reid’s fears is seeing the NFIP bill used as a vehicle for addressing other priorities of members of the Senate.
He said one incentive for Senate floor action is that it could be used by the leadership to fill time to keep senators in town.
“The NFIP bill is a good candidate for that,” he says.
Charles Symington, senior vice president of government affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, representing independent agents across the United States “strongly” encouraged the Senate to act as time is running out.
“If it becomes clear that the Senate cannot complete consideration of their bill well before then, and with enough time to resolve the differences with the House-passed bill, we will strongly advocate that both the House and Senate give up on any thoughts of reform for this year and instead work on a multi-year, clean and simple extension of the NFIP in order to finally bring some stability to the 5.7 million consumers relying on this program.”
This story was updated on April 6 at 9:06 a.m. EDT with comments from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.