More than 3,000 Treasure Coast property owners — among millions nationwide — may see a four-year delay in their expected increases in national flood insurance rates, while federal emergency managers study how to strengthen the program with less pain to the public.
"This is great news for many Floridians who've been told their flood insurance rates were going way up," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Monday in a prepared statement. "If people can't afford the coverage, what good is it going to do?"
Nelson's staff said he had filed legislation would have delayed the premium hikes for at least a year. But he joined a bipartisan group of House and Senate members, mostly from Gulf Coast states, in agreeing to delay the increases for four years.
Congress in July 2012 passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act to make the nation's flood insurance program more financially sound. The program, funded by below-market, subsidized rates since 1968, had been losing money since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005.
Biggert-Waters eliminated the subsidies from many homeowners' flood insurance policies. When the subsidies expired Oct. 1, some residents began to see their rates increase significantly, Nelson's staff said.
The legislation would delay premium increases for four years and require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct a formal affordability study before any future increases.
On the Treasure Coast, FEMA's latest records show, 66,667 property owners had flood insurance in 2012. But the government had subsidized just 3,078 of those policies — 1,295 in Martin County, 1,215 in St. Lucie and 568 in Indian River.
Vero Beach independent insurance broker Gene Waddell took issue with Nelson's description of "great news."
"It's actually delayed bad news," Waddell said, adding some kind of increase will be needed to make the program sound.
"Why they're backing out of this, just because people don't like it, doesn't make sense," he said. "Nobody likes a rate increase."
Lenders require flood insurance for those who have mortgages and live in designated flood zones. But emergency officials advise others to carry it as well.
The new agreement is expected to be filed Tuesday in the Senate. It was outlined in a letter dated Friday that has already been signed by a half-dozen members of Congress.