Congresswoman promises delay of NFIP changes by end of year

Nov 18th, 2013 | By | Category: Top Story
Braithwaite resident, Kathy Gonzales, explains to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA 43rd District), that her July 2012 legislation to change the structure of the National Flood Insurance Program is adversely affecting coastal communities. Waters, co-author of the Biggert-Waters Act, assured Gonzales that before the year’s end, Congress will pass legislation to delay these changes for four years, giving Congress time to address the “unintended consequences” that the Biggert-Waters Act brought. Photo byTerri A. Sercovich

Braithwaite resident, Kathy Gonzales, explains to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA 43rd
District), that her July 2012 legislation to change the structure of the National Flood
Insurance Program is adversely affecting coastal communities. Waters, co-author
of the Biggert-Waters Act, assured Gonzales that before the year’s end, Congress
will pass legislation to delay these changes for four years, giving Congress time
to address the “unintended consequences” that the Biggert-Waters Act brought.
Photo byTerri A. Sercovich

The category 5 Katrina did not flood Kathy and Joseph Gonzales’ Braithwaite home. But seven years later, after the completion of the New Orleans Hurricane Protection System, which shelters most of St. Bernard Parish, the slow moving Isaac— a category 1 that was downgraded to a tropical storm— brought them eight feet of water.

The Gonzales’ initial choice was to rebuild, but when news broke about changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) brought on by the Biggert-Waters Act, they no longer knew what to do. Last week, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA 43rd District), co-author of the legislation that brought such sweeping changes to the NFIP, personally visited the Gonzales home to reassure Kathy that before the end of the year, her namesake legislation will be delayed for four years, giving Congress time to fix the original legislation.

Biggert-Waters Act
Passed at a time when the NFIP was at a $24 billion deficit, Rep. Waters says she was initial approached to co-sponsor the legislation as a means to keep the National Flood Insurance Program viable after the costly Katrina and Rita. It passed in July of 2012, just a few months before October 2012’s Super Storm hit New England.

The changes eliminated grandfathered rates replacing them with actuarial rates. Structures built to code at the time of construction are given credit when those codes change; grandfathering means that they are still considered in compliance.

The elimination of this puts many homes and business out-of-compliance overnight. These home  businesses can still purchase flood insurance, but for many, premiums jump from hundreds per year to tens-of-thousands.

Most of St. Bernard would not be adversely affected by these changes. But Kathy Gonzales says St. Bernard residents can certainly emphasize with fellow
coastal communities that are.

Gonzales
For the past year, since Isaac, the coupled has been forced to live apart. Joseph Gonzales Jr. stays at the evacuation home in Mississippi the couple purchased after Katrina. He cares for their horses. Kathy Gonzales stays in a camper parked in front of their gutted home, where they’ve lived
for 34 years

“We never thought we’d flood for Isaac because it was a category 1, and because we didn’t flood for Katrina,” she explained.

Originally from St. Bernard, the Gonzales bought their Braithwaite property for the land; the animal lovers wanted space for dogs and horses. But they took heed after Katrina and bought an evacuation home in Mississippi.

Joseph, who retired from Murphy Oil right before it was bought by Valero, takes care of the animals in Mississippi while Kathy, the supervisor of transportation for St. Bernard School District works during the week and stays in a camper parked in front of their gutted home.

Electrical and plumbing work is complete and the dry wall is ready to be hung, but Kathy is hesitant. If the Biggert-Waters act is not delayed and then altered, flood insurance will be beyond her ability to afford, and with no federal levee , her home, once her biggest asset, is now her biggest liability.

“We love the community; we love the people here,” said Gonzales. “But I feel like I’m gambling because I’m investing tens of thousands of dollars into my house.”

FEMA
Rep. Water visited Kathy Gonzales’ camper.

“We need help and you’re the only one who can do it for us,” Kathy said to Rep. Waters. That help is in the works, Waters said. She along with almost 100 other House members have introduced the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (H.R. 3370). It will delay the implementation of the Biggert- Waters changes for four years.

It also requires FEMA to complete two projects it ignored, said Waters.

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was charged to implement this law, cut corners and did not complete two important tasks which were central points to the Biggerts-Waters legislation.”

FEMA was to improve the accuracy of flood maps,taking into account mitigation projects funded by
state or local governments. As it stands now, it only recognizes federal projects. FEMA was also tasked with completing an affordability study, which it did not do.

“But FEMA decided not to complete either one of these tasks,” said Waters. “Instead it just announced dramatic rate increases for many of its policy holders. FEMA, in my estimation, has distorted the intentions of a well-meaning piece legislation and has caused grief to families coast-to-coast. This could have been avoided.”

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