Six Southwest Florida officials are in Washington D.C. to speak with national legislators about delaying flood insurance rate hikes.
Fort Myers Beach Mayor Alan Mandel and Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, a Beach resident, are among the local officials, including Mayor Kevin Ruane of Sanibel, Mayor Marni Sawicki of Cape Coral, Mayor Ben Nelson of Bonita Springs, assistant County Manager Glen Salyer and Chris Heidrick of Heidrick & Company Insurance and Risk Management Services. They have and are meeting with members of Congress, congressional staff and administration officials on Tuesday, Feb. 11, and Wednesday, Feb. 12. Local officials will also have meetings with officials from both the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The purpose of the trip to the nation's capitol is to continue discussions on the U.S. Senate's recently passed Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. The bill is now in the hands of the House of Representatives.
Mandel met with Kiker in his County office last Thursday to discuss a game plan before departure.
"It's important to meet with as many people as possible, especially from outside of Florida and predominantly in the House," said Mandel. "We want them to vote for the bill that passed the Senate."
Kiker will be attending a Florida Association of Counties meeting while up north. He agreed with Mandel's goals.
"We are going to set up as many meetings as we can with as many people as we can and try to get some votes," said Kiker before departing.
Mandel stated he will be speaking with many Senate and House of Representative aides that have been assigned to the FEMA issue. They include meetings already set up with aides representing Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas (a senior counsel in financial services), Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri.
"We want them to realize that, while there may be a short-term benefit in what they are thinking about, in longer terms this is devastating for Florida and the national economy as well," said Mandel.
Mandel calls the dilemma a "case of unintended consequences." He will be basing his arguments on the national economy as a whole.
"They may think that they are going to get a significant increase in FEMA (funds) initially," he said. "However, think about the bankruptcies, foreclosures and all the tourist dollars that usually come into Lee County from outside the United States in the long run. Think about all the Florida resort communities and the new dollars that are coming into the U.S. There may be no places to stay or condos to rent because they (might be) in foreclosure."
Now that the U.S. Senate recently approved rate-hike relief for millions of homeowners covered by the government's flood insurance program, there is a push for a bill to reach a vote and pass the House of Representatives to delay many of the flood insurance rate increases for four years. During that time, FEMA, the country's disaster agency, would be required to study the affordability of policies and re-evaluate the accuracy of new flood maps.
If the House passes what is known as H.R. 3370, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act would delay the implementation of certain provisions of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.
Senate passed the bill by a vote of 67-32.
"We are finally coming to the point at which we can grant homeowners and businesses some relief from the huge, gargantuan sometimes tenfold increases in flood insurance premiums," said Sen. Bill Nelson, after advancing legislation on Jan. 30.
The higher flood rates are the result of Congress having passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. It was intended to make the flood insurance program more financially sound. The program was in a downward spiral exacerbated by damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The measure the Senate passed last week still must pass the House where tea party members have said they intend to defeat it.