By Bruce Barr
TAC Legislative Staff
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2012 was signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 6. Features of the act were far reaching and its passage by Congress was generally hailed as positive by the insurance industry and homeowner protection organizations.
While a major purpose of the act is to whittle away the $18 billion dollars in debt FEMA still holds from Hurricane Katrina, other reforms include the phasing out of subsidies on a number of properties, imposing minimum deductibles for flood claims, the establishment of a technical mapping advisory council to steer the map modernization program, more aggressive mitigation programs, and a number of changes to the insurance business and management end of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
Changes felt at the local level
While almost all of the act’s sections will have some impact on local governments and their citizens, some sections may have an immediate effect.
FEMA is to streamline its existing mitigation grant programs and give priority to mitigation programs that offer the strongest amount of savings to the National Flood Insurance Fund. In that same vein, the flood reform act will permit persons residing in communities that have made adequate progress on improvements to their flood protection system to buy flood insurance at the same rate as if the protection system was completed.
The act requires that FEMA, in conjunction with the Technical Mapping Advisory Council, establish meaningful standards for updating and completing maps and authorizes $400 million dollars annually for mapping. It also directs FEMA to enhance communication and outreach to states, local communities and property owners regarding mapping changes and mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements.
One change included in the act allows communities to not only challenge the Base Flood Elevations indicated on new FEMA flood maps but also to challenge the extent of a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). During the last phase of flood map modernization, several “new” maps were actually old Flood Insurance Rate Maps digitally rendered by tracing over the old SFHAs.
An independent scientific resolution panel will be established to address mapping-related concerns from communities that are dissatisfied with their appeal to FEMA. The section will also authorize certain communities that already have their new maps to use this new panel to rule on Letters of Map Revisions more quickly than the current process allows.
Five-year authorization allows for program advancement
For the past several years, the NFIP has been funded annually, leading to disruption in FEMA programs geared at bringing private insurance companies into the flood policy fold. A five-year budget also allows FEMA to bring modern science into play in determining the true cause of property destruction by developing a plan to combine FEMA data with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate models.
For more information on the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2012, or other floodplain management related questions, please contact County G.I.S. Analyst Bruce Barr, CFM, at .