Make FEMA explain the flood insurance numbers


Posted: 5:44 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, 2013

Miami Under WaterIt’s curious enough to see Gov. Rick Scott backing Mississippi’s lawsuit in support of subsidized insurance rates. But there’s a lot more for Florida to sort out as the state’s politicians mostly unite behind an effort to delay what for some residents would be massive increases in the cost of flood insurance.

The Post last week detailed the case of a Pinellas County man whose now-subsidized premium will rise from roughly $4,400 to about $44,000. That is not a typo. His and similar cases popped up when the flood insurance reform bill that Congress passed last year began to take effect Oct. 1. But based on Florida Office of Insurance Regulation Deputy Chief of Staff Rebecca Matthews’ presentation last month before the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, it’s unclear whether such cases are the exception.

Of Florida’s 2 millionplus polices in the National Flood Insurance Program, 87 percent are not subsidized. Still, some could be subject to increases based on new mapping by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Many of the subsidized policies are clustered in the Tampa Bay area, southwest Florida and the Keys. All are much more prone to storm surge than Southeast Florida and the Treasure Coast.

Pinellas County has the third-highest rate of subsidized policies, at 35 percent. Pasco County, just to the north, has the second-highest, at 36 percent. Monroe County, all of which is in a floodplain, has the highest — 37 percent. Miami-Dade (47,442) and Broward (19,425) counties are among the top 10 in total subsidized policies, but the rate is 13 percent in Miami-Dade and just 5 percent in Broward. Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie didn’t even make the top 10.

The 2012 legislation called for that new mapping. Last fall, Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast. The storm surge did massive damage. According to insurance analysts in Florida, FEMA then took a harder look at the potential for damage from a similar storm striking Tampa Bay. Such flooding, one analyst said, was determined to be potentially “catastrophic.” Since the flood insurance bill was designed to make the program more able to pay claims without increasing its debt and even to build up reserves, predictions of catastrophic damage may have led to catastrophic rate increases for those in the Tampa Bay area who have older, subsidized policies.

Florida and other coastal states want a four-year delay in flood insurance reform. It is not clear whether Congress will act. Also not clear, though, is how FEMA arrived at the numbers. Ms. Matthews noted in her presentation that Florida “historically” has paid about $4 in premiums for every $1 that has come back to the state in claims.

Even after four years, if Congress goes along, some in Florida may pay much more. Nothing should happen, though, until FEMA produces a massive amount of information about the agency’s decisions.