Iowa delegation united as House votes to extend flood insurance program

The House of Representatives approved a bill yesterday to extend the National Flood Insurance Program through fiscal year 2016. The overwhelming majority (406 votes in favor) included Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Leonard Boswell (IA-03), as well as Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05). After the jump I’ve posted statements from Loebsack and Boswell on this bill. Loebsack’s press release mentions key improvements to the federal flood insurance program and highlights an amendment he proposed, which the House approved by voice vote. A video of Loebsack’s speech to the House introducing that amendment is also after the jump. He has worked extensively on flood-related issues in Congress since the historic 2008 floods devastated population centers in his district.

Boswell’s press release highlighted an amendment he submitted, which was intended to help flood victims in three additional ways. That amendment failed on a 181 to 244 vote just before final passage of the bill. Notably, Latham and King were two of only three House Republicans to vote for Boswell’s amendment. Both will run for re-election in 2012 in districts affected by this summer’s Missouri River flooding.

Federal flood insurance has had bipartisan support in the past, but King’s votes yesterday suggest a change of heart. In July 2010, he was the only Iowan to vote against a similar House bill to extend the National Flood Insurance Program. At that time, King didn’t publicize his opposition, and I didn’t see any statement about yesterday’s House vote on his official website.

Presumably King changed his position because the Missouri River has devastated parts of western Iowa this summer (for details, check the Iowa Homeland Security website). In fact, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack signed an agricultural disaster designation last week for 14 counties in IA-05. King did announce that aid in a press release I’ve posted after the jump. It lists the affected counties and explains the kinds of federal assistance available to farm operators. King is proud of his vote against federal aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina, but when a natural disaster affects his own constituents, “big government” looks a lot more appealing.

In other Congressional news, Iowa’s House delegation split on party lines yesterday over a bill “aimed at repealing a slew of light bulb efficiency standards.” Latham and King joined most Republicans supporting this bill; Braley, Loebsack and Boswell voted no. Although 233 representatives voted for the bill and only 193 against it, the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act failed to pass because it was brought to the floor “under a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority,” Andrew Restuccia reported.

Representative Dave Loebsack press release, July 12:

Key Provisions of Loebsack Flood Insurance Bill Pass House

Bill includes Loebsack amendment to improve FEMA Flood Mapping process as well as provisions to increase participation

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack today praised the passage of the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011, which reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years. The legislation contains an amendment authored by Loebsack that will improve the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood map modernization process.  It requires FEMA to inform local television and radio stations that the flood maps are being updated and allows property owners and communities the opportunity to have an additional 90 days to ensure the draft flood maps are correct. The bipartisan amendment was passed today by voice vote on the House floor and the bill as a whole passed by a vote of 406-22. The bill will now have to be considered by the Senate.

“Due to a lack of adequate notification during the process of flood mapping, many homeowners continue to be surprised when they find out that their homes are newly placed in a floodplain,” said Loebsack.  “We need to ensure Iowans are aware when this process is happening and make sure every property owner who might be affected by flood maps should have an opportunity to fully participate in the process and strive to have the most accurate maps possible.”

Video of Congressman Loebsack’s floor speech introducing the amendment can be found here.

The legislation also included provisions similar to those authored by Loebsack in The Homeowners Flood Insurance Awareness Act that would require FEMA to notify the Member of Congress and Senators of any map modernization taking place so that they can help inform their constituents, as well as to require FEMA reimburse for costs incurred by property owners for obtaining letters of map amendment (LOMA) when their property was mistakenly placed in a floodplain.

In addition, the legislation contains the following provisions to improve the flood insurance program:

·         Delays for three years the mandatory requirement of the purchase of flood insurance for those homeowners in a neighborhood newly classified as a Special Flood Hazard Area;

·         Following the three-year delay, allows for a five-year phase-in of full-risk, actuarial rates for these homeowners in newly-classified flood zones;

·         Establishes a new Technical Mapping Advisory Council to develop rigorous new mapping standards for 100-year flood insurance maps within 12 months of enactment;

·         Provides optional coverage for additional living expenses incurred by homeowners when losses from a flood make their home unfit to live in;

·         Allows families to pay flood insurance premiums in installments;

·         Requires that each good faith estimate provided to homebuyers at closing include a notification about the availability of flood insurance regardless of whether or not the home being purchased is located in a flood zone, the ability to escrow flood insurance payments, and contact information for the National Flood Insurance Program.

Representative Leonard Boswell press release, July 12:

Boswell Offers Amendment to Protect Iowans Impacted by Devastating Floods

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Leonard Boswell introduced an amendment to H.R. 1309 that would help victims of flooding in Iowa and across the nation by making key changes to flood insurance.

“Residents in nearly 700 counties across the United States have been victims of flooding this year, and Iowans have been hit especially hard,” said Boswell. “Farmers, homeowners, and small business owners are seeing their lives and livelihoods, quite literally, being washed away. We need to step up to the plate and help these flood victims rebuild their lives and repair the damage. Families and businesses impacted by flooding should not be subjected to premium increases as they struggle to get back on their feet.”

Boswell’s amendment would help victims of flooding in three important ways. It would reimburse a flood policyholder for the cost of rebuilding a flood-damaged structure as needed to comply with state and local floodplain management laws. Second, this amendment would give FEMA the discretion to provide grants to homeowners to repair flood damage. It also would also suspend any increases in flood insurance premiums for a period of 36 months for policyholders located in areas designated by the President as a major disaster or emergency.

“These changes are not a hand-out,” Boswell said. “My amendment provides immediate assistance and relief to those homeowners who have paid into the Flood Insurance Fund.  The Flood Insurance Fund is paid through premiums and fees paid by policyholders, not the taxpayer.”

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Representative Steve King press release, July 8:

King Announces USDA Disaster Assistance for Flooded Counties

14 counties are eligible for FSA assistance for damages and losses caused by flooding

Washington D.C.- Congressman Steve King (R-IA) announces that the United States Department of Agriculture has granted Iowa’s request for a Secretarial disaster declaration. King led efforts in the House of Representatives in support of the state’s request, and he secured the support of the entire House delegation on a letter to Secretary Vilsack urging the granting of the agriculture disaster declaration.

“The Missouri River flood has caused extensive damage to farmland, and it has left Iowa’s agricultural producers facing significant losses,” said King. “The issuance of the Secretarial disaster designation will allow farm operators in 14 counties to apply for FSA emergency loans, and it will allow farmers to participate in the SURE program to help offset the financial damage caused by losing crops to the flood. I want to thank Secretary Vilsack for making the Secretarial disaster declaration, and I appreciate the fact that the designation was granted so quickly.”

The Secretarial disaster declaration covers both primary and contiguous counties that have sustained flood related damage and losses. Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona, Pottawattamie, and Woodbury counties are designated as primary counties, while Cass, Cherokee, Crawford, Ida, Montgomery, Page, Plymouth and Shelby counties are covered as contiguous counties.

In order to receive emergency loan assistance, farmers in eligible counties must apply within eight months of the date of the Secretarial disaster declaration. Farmers who want additional information about available programs and eligibility requirements are encouraged to contact their local FSA office.

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