The flood insurance program was separated from the larger government spending bill earlier this year as part of a deal to keep it alive through hurricane season while leaders in Washington fought over other, more partisan parts of the appropriations bill.
(TNS) - With flood insurance agencies and policyholders just a few days away from the expiration of the National Flood Insurance Program, one local expert says there is little certainty about what's to come.
"We are coming back from the Thanksgiving break with no bill, no plan and four days left until the end of the National Flood Insurance Program," Joe Rossi, chairman of the Massachusetts Coastal Coalition, said Tuesday.
Congress granted the program a last-minute extension just hours before it was set to expire this past July, giving themselves until this Friday to work out reforms that some lawmakers are seeking.
Rossi says it's hard to guess what will happen to the program, which covers thousands of coastal homeowners on the South Shore.
"From what I gathered on a legislative call this afternoon, we are at a point where there has been no movement on extending the National Flood Insurance Program," he said. "There are a lot of moving parts with only three or four days left."
Rossi said there are two things that could happen when the deadline hits Friday: The program could be extended for six more months, or it could get a seven-day extension that would line it up with the Dec. 7 government spending bill deadline facing Congress.
The flood insurance program was separated from the larger government spending bill earlier this year as part of a deal to keep it alive through hurricane season while leaders in Washington fought over other, more partisan parts of the appropriations bill. Relinking the program to a general spending bill would be a major step back, Rossi said.
"There is already talk of a government shutdown for funding for things like the wall and immigration matters," he said, referring to a wall that President Donald Trump wants to build along the Mexican border. "If that happens, and the program is caught up in it, we could see a real lapse in flood insurance. The idea of extending it through Nov. 30 was to get past hurricane season, but in many parts of the country, storm season is just beginning."
The extension approved by the U.S. Senate in July kept the program going but was a far cry from a larger bill that was being pushed by Rossi and other coastal groups. Their bill included what Rossi called "necessary reforms" but was rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Congress has done little work on reforms since then and some lawmakers now say they won't vote for extending the program into 2019 without them.
"There is not enough time to put together any type of significant reforms at this point, so there could be a stalemate," Rossi said. "Ideally we will get a six-month extension that would keep the NFIP from lapsing during a government shutdown. The general idea is that in the next six months we will be able to get some serious reforms together."
Rossi said he is cautiously optimistic about a six-month extension but is preparing for a lapse and encourages coastal homeowners to do the same. He recommends that anyone with a policy set to expire in the next 120 days ask their insurance agency to generate a renewal notice, which would protect them in the case of a lapse.
The program lapsed for a few days in January and for six hours this March. They were the first lapses since 2010. The July extension was the seventh granted to the program since it first expired in October 2017.
The flood insurance program, started in 1956, became a hot-button issue on the South Shore in 2013 when the Federal Emergency Management Agency released new flood maps for Marshfield, Scituate and Duxbury that help set the rates and determine which owners must buy flood insurance. Later, maps for other South Shore communities, including Quincy, also caused an uproar.
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