Property owners brace for flood insurance hikes

By Matthew Rand | 

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - The National Flood Insurance Program is in trouble.

Huge losses, mainly from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, mean the federal program is $24 billion in the red.

In response to outcry from taxpayers, Congress has changed its plans for how it will try to make up the deficit, but people required by law to purchase flood insurance say they are not happy about their premiums going up.

Michael Deaton is no stranger to flooding. Her home has flooded several times since it was built in the 1940s.

"The last time the flood was in here was about four feet, and that was in 1984, but it's been in the basement twice in the 1990s," she said.

Like many who live close to water, Deaton is required to buy flood insurance.

Under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, more than one million property owners would lose subsidies for that coverage, and instead would have to begin paying rates that reflect the real risk of flooding.

Earlier this month, Congress decided to amend the 2012 law, not to preserve the subsidies, but to do away with them more gradually.

"It's going to make it easier on some people probably to purchase new properties, because it's going to put a cap of 18 percent as far as what the annual increase could be," said insurance agent Melanie Gould.

Business owners face a mandatory increase of 25 percent each year.

Gould says the language in the 2012 law created real challenges for would-be buyers.

"Say you had a commercial building that had eight apartments in it. If it's going to take four of the apartments just to pay the annual flood insurance premium, that's pretty much going to be a big deterrent for you to buy that property," she said.

Deaton says she is less than thrilled about her premium going up, even if it does so gradually.

"I just got my bill, and it went up about $170, and I don't think that's the full amount it's going to go up. I think it will continue to go up for a while," she said.

She says she loves her home, even if it is flood-prone, and plans to (as she puts it) 'take the bitter with the sweet.'

According to the Associated Press, there were about 25,000 properties in Kentucky with a combined $3.7 billion in flood insurance coverage at the end of December.

Under the amended bill, about half of those will have adjusted premiums.

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