OUR OPINION: New flood plain law helps Mississippians

Mississippi’s congressional delegation, especially Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, worked hard for the passage and enactment of a bill signed a week ago by President Obama rolling back sky-high rate increases on coastal properties and flood plains in the 2012 reform of the National Flood Insurance Program.

The measure will assist residents of coastal areas in Mississippi whose flood insurance premiums soared under the 2012 reforms, with some customers becoming eligible for rebates on costs already paid.

The law caps rate increases at 15 percent and provides refunds for some homeowners who have already incurred much higher premiums in the reforms, which were passed to put the debt-ridden NFIP on stronger footing.

Obama signed the bill without fanfare. Sometimes described as an election-year ploy by coastal-states politicians, the new reform undeniably makes NFIP more affordable for property owners who registered sticker shock when higher rates were imposed following redrawing of flood plain maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The bill passed the House on a 306-91 vote. The Senate cleared it in a 72-22 vote.

The new law caps flood insurance premium increases and allows below-market insurance rates to be passed on to people buying homes in flood zones with taxpayer-subsidized policies.

Critics say taxpayers will end up footing the bill when the next disaster strikes instead of homeowners who choose to live in areas susceptible to flooding. Sometimes, especially in times of transition to other systems, the government’s actions need to be modified, and this was the case.

The legislation, as described, offers greatest relief to owners of properties that were originally built to code but subsequently were found to be at greater risk.

The protests of property owners when rate increases were announced got attention across the map and in both parties. The Gulf Coast states were joined by protests along the Atlantic and in other flood plain areas across the nation.

People whose second home is in a flood zone and those whose properties have flooded repeatedly would have seen their premiums go up by 25 percent a year until reaching a level consistent with their real risk of flooding.

Stabilizing the NFIP undoubtedly will be tried again, but a more gradual increase and other methods need to be discussed going forward.