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NFIP Official: Program Likely to Need Congress to Authorize Loan for Sandy Claims

The National Flood Insurance Program is likely to run out of money to pay Superstorm Sandy claims, meaning it will probably need Congress to authorize a loan, a FEMA official says.

“The claims numbers [from Superstorm Sandy] are staggering,” says Edward L. Connor, deputy associate administrator of the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, a unit of the Dept. of Homeland Security.

He says the “burn rate” at which the agency is going through money will require it to use its $900 million in cash and its remaining $2.9 million in borrowing authority by the end of the month in order  to pay claims generated by the storm.

Connor made his comments Wednesday during a meeting of the Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance convened by Michael McRaith, director of the Federal Insurance Office.

In a presentation there, he explained that the NFIP is “still in debt from Katrina. We are $17 billion in debt and only have $840 million in cash, so it is going to be a very, very long haul.”

He said the event could be a total loss of $6 billion to $12 billion, with perhaps as many as 143,000 claims. “It will be huge.”

He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the NFIP, recently had a weekly conference call with state commissioners and agreed to waive the proof of loss requirement for payment of claims.

He also said he expects the agency will have to raise NFIP rates up to 20 percent as a result of Sandy.

A spokesman for Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., chair of the Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity of the House Financial Services Committee, says Biggert did not plan a hearing on the financial implications of Sandy before the end of the year.

But an industry official who asked not to be named says any request for greater borrowing authority from Congress will have to start with the Financial Services Committee. The House Appropriations Committee would also be involved.

The need to borrow money was predicted Nov. 2 by officials of various private groups that seek to persuade Congress to move promptly to deal with the country’s catastrophe-risk issues in a coherent way.

And it is a waste of money, contends Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

“We must relocate people out of harm’s way,” Blumenaur says. “We did not do it with Katrina and there will be pressures not to do it in the aftermath of Sandy.”

Blumenauer adds, “Part of this is financial. We are going to have this fund exhausted.”

He says that, as a practical matter, “I don’t think there is any doubt that the insured-flood loss will far exceed the $3 billion borrowing capacity. It is beyond merely the financial. The extent of all the federal policies, disaster relief, flood coverage and infrastructure  spending will result in money being spent to put people right back in harm’s way; we are working against ourselves.”

Blumenauer says a key issue is, “We have people drawn to coastal regions. That is where the most dramatic growth has occurred in the last 50 years. We need to make sure that all of the tools at our disposal help make people safer, not just dealing with their financial loss.”

Blumenauer says the issue has been a priority of his during his 10 terms in office. “I am concerned about the human tragedy that results from someone who returns to a storm-ravaged property; the emergency responders who are in put harm’s way because people refuse to evacuate the areas of greatest risk.”

And, he says, “There is no good time other than now to try and save lives, save property; save money.” 

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