|WASHINGTON, D.C., February 16 - Water is essential for life, but it can also wash away lifelong investments.
For nearly 50 years, the National Flood Insurance Program has been a critical safety net for millions of American home and business owners who are susceptible to floods. Standard home insurance policies do not provide flood damage protection, and so the federal government has stepped in to address this market failure. In South Texas, flood insurance has been integral to preserving communities in the aftermath of hurricanes and rivers rising.
However, the damage done by hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy pushed the program into $24 billion of debt. Congress acted in 2012 by passing the Biggert-Waters Insurance Reform Act, supported by the insurance industry and housing advocates alike, to put the program’s fiscal house in order. Rates were supposed to increase slowly over time and to respond to affordability concerns. However, the implementation of these changes was botched by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which ignored the mandates of Congress to conduct an affordability study and to ensure accurate flood maps. Congress never intended for rates to skyrocket for middle-class families. Without relief, these increases will prevent millions of Americans from buying or selling a home, or may even force them from their homes. Thousands of households and prospective homebuyers in the Rio Grande Valley are currently being impacted by dramatic rate increases and are asking for help from their elected representatives.
On Jan. 30, the U.S. Senate passed a bill with overwhelming support to delay the rate increases in the National Flood Insurance Program. The next step to achieve relief is for the House to bring to the floor the companion bill, H.R. 3370, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. This bill, of which I am an original co-sponsor, has broad bipartisan support. Ten Texas U.S. Representatives are co-sponsors — half Democrats, half Republicans — from all corners of the political spectrum. We all agree on one thing: the status quo is untenable. In such a polarized and divided Congress, the dire circumstances confronting housing markets have forged a rare bipartisan coalition. That is what makes the pushback by a handful of congressional Republicans to this bill so disappointing.
As a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over flood insurance, I have reached across the aisle to work on important legislation many times. Unfortunately, the current majority leadership is more invested in absolutist ideology than getting things done. Two Republican Texas congressmen, Jeb Hensarling, who chairs the Financial Services Committee, and Randy Neugebauer, who chairs the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee, have blocked the bipartisan flood bill from reaching the House floor. Were they to change their minds, the bill would surely pass. In the spirit of cooperation and getting things done for Texas, I urge them to drop their legislative blockade.
Without a legislative fix, we will see many of our housing markets freeze up and lose the economic gains of the last few years. In South Texas, this would be devastating. Our state delegation should work together to achieve relief for homeowners; Texas communities are counting on us.
Rubén Hinojosa is member of Congress for the 15th Congressional District in Texas. A Democrat, he hails from Mercedes, Texas. Hinojosa is a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee.