US Congress boosts flood insurance pogrammes borrowing power
The US Congress on Friday approved legislation to increase the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by $9.7 billion.
The House of Representatives voted 354-67 to keep the National Flood Insurance Program solvent and able to pay claims of thousands of homeowners who suffered flood damage in coastal New York, New Jersey and Connecticut from the October storm.
The Senate, which has already approved a similar increase but as part of a larger $60 billion Superstorm Sandy disaster relief measure, quickly approved the $9.7 billion for the NFIP by unanimous consent — moving it to President Barack Obama to be signed into law on his vacation in Hawaii.
The crucial vote came as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned members of Congress that the NFIP would run out of money to pay claims for Sandy and other storms as early as today unless it approved additional borrowing authority.
The government-backed programme has already paid out more than $1.7 billion to survivors. But with nearly 140,000 Sandy claims, FEMA, which administers the flood programme, said without increased borrowing power, only about 25,000 of them would be covered from existing funds.
That information was revealed in a statement late on Wednesday from Dave Miller, FEMAs associate administrator for the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, which indicated that the agency is rapidly running out of funds.
The FEMA memo said that absent an increase in the NFIP borrowing authority, payments on more than 115,000 claims in states across the country may be delayed until Congress increases the NFIP borrowing authority.
Putting more money into the programme comes months after President Barack Obama signed a law aimed at improving its finances. Congress bailed out the programme after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and it is nearly $20 billion in debt.
Standard homeowners insurance does not cover flooding. The US government set up its flood insurance programme in 1968 to provide affordable insurance, impose flood management policies on vulnerable communities and reduce federal disaster aid costs.
Critics of the programme complain it is inefficient and say it subsidises people who live and build in dangerous and environmentally sensitive flood zones.
The House of Representatives will consider the remaining portion of the aid package for Sandy victims worth $51 billion on January 15.