Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney is prepared to sue the federal government to stop the flood insurance rate hikes triggered by a recent reform law, but it remains to be seen if he can move forward because the state’s attorney general has declined to represent him.
Chaney is seeking to sue the U.S. government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that calls for more risk-based pricing for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which has been in debt since Hurricane Katrina claims.
Among other changes, the Biggert-Waters law phases out premium subsidies for owners of second homes, repetitive loss properties and others who have been shielded from higher premiums. The law also requires new flood maps, some of which mean properties that were never required to have flood insurance now have to have it.
The changes are causing sizable increases in renewal premiums for some property owners and requiring others to purchase flood insurance for the first time. For others, the rising premiums are making it difficult for them to sell their homes.
State officials and federal lawmakers from Louisiana, Texas, the Carolinas up the Northeast seacoast are calling for a delay in implementation until the affordability of coverage can be addressed.
Chaney is the only official looking to sue the government. The question is will he have time to do that before the October 1 implementation of the law.
Chaney’s plan suffered a blow when state Attorney General Jim Hood declined to join the commissioner in pursuing the suit.
Hood’s move has left Chaney asking for funds to hire an outside attorney to pursue the case.
“Please consider this letter my request that you reconsider participating in this lawsuit, as we believe it is an extremely important issue for the people in Mississippi,” wrote Chaney in a letter to Hood.
“Furthermore, even if you decline representation, I would like to discuss with you ways that your office can still help us in this endeavor,” added Chaney.
So far, Hood has made no public statement concerning Chaney’s request and appears unlikely he will given the short time frame to pursue such a legal strategy.
Chaney’s action comes as Congress debates proposals to delay the new rate hikes for at least a year. Rep. Bill Cassidy, (R-Louisiana), is among the authors of a bill passed by the House to imposing a one-year delay in implementing the flood increases.
Several senators have also stepped forward with a similar bill that has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and awaits a full Senate vote.
Yesterday, Craig Fugate, director of FEMA, which manages the flood insurance program, told a Senate subcommittee that he does not have the authority to delay implementation under the law.
“I need help. I have not found a way to delay…without some additional legislative support. There is no provision for affordability in this law,” he told members of a subcommittee of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, several of whom who asked him to take administrative action to delay reforms.
If the Obama administration can delay parts of Affordable Care Act, then it can delay parts of Biggert-Waters because “it is clearly not ready for prime time,” Sen. David Vitter, (R-Louisiana), told Fugate.
However, time may be running out. Congress is currently wrangling over a possible government shutdown and the country’s debt ceiling.
Chaney is not alone in warning about the flood insurance rate hikes.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott penned a letter to Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio this week urging them the delay the increases.
Scott warned that under the new rates many current homeowners in flood plan areas could find it impossible to sell their properties once prospective buyers realize what they would have to pay to secure a mortgage.
“This unfair consequence could devastate parts of Florida’s real estate market, stymie Florida’s economic recovery and diminish the state’s tax base,” wrote Scott.
Scott also noted that Florida has “done its fair share” to support the federal flood insurance program by paying out $16 billion in premiums over the last 35 years, which is four times greater than the amount residents have received in claims.