Homeowners protested the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and increasing flood insurance rates at rallies across the country on Saturday.
The Free Beacon attended one of the rallies organized by Stop FEMA Now in Toms River, N.J. where dozens of residents gathered. Many of those in attendance said they might be forced to walk away from their homes, as they could not afford the tens of thousands of dollars in flood premiums.
"750,000 in New Jersey have no idea they will not be able to afford their homes," said George Kasimos, founder of Stop FEMA Now. He called the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act, which takes effect Oct. 1, the "next shoe to drop."
The Biggert-Waters Act authorized FEMA to issue new flood maps and the National Flood Insurance Program to raise flood insurance rates in order to shore up the federal program, which is billions of dollars in the red.
"The rest of the country is now starting to wake up", he said, pointing to a Mississippi lawsuit filed this week.
Kasimos said properties will become unsellable, local governments will lose their tax base, and "local economies are going to be devastated."
Just before midnight on the eve of the national rally, Stop FEMA received a statement from Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.).
"I am outraged by the increased costs of flood insurance premiums that have resulted from the Biggert Waters Act, Waters said. "I certainly did not intend for these types of outrageous premiums to occur for any homeowner."
"When I agreed to coauthor this legislation, our goal was to create a bipartisan solution to repair our National Flood Insurance Program. Neither Democrats nor Republicans envisioned it would reap the kind of harm and heartache that may result from this law going into effect," Waters said.
She said she will work with Congress and FEMA to fix the problem, and she is "committed to fixing the unintended consequences" of the Biggert-Waters Act.
Those at the rally discussed the financial strain that will result for them if Biggert-Waters is not repealed or changed quickly.
Stanley Rucinski said he is currently living in a FEMA trailer in Manchester, N.J. His home in Silverton, N.J. sustained 61 percent damage and is still in disrepair.
"I might have to walk away," Rucinski said, adding that his displacement may become permanent if Biggert-Waters takes effect. He said he is uncertain if he can even afford to live there if costs increase as expected. "I’m in limbo."
Rucinski left the rally with a yard sign that he planned on placing near his FEMA trailer. The sign read, "Stop FEMA Now, Save Our Homes."
Others in the audience held signs that read "Save Our Communities" and "No Second Victims."
Kim Ely of Brick, N.J., now pays $700 in annual flood insurance premiums. That bill will soar to $15,000 when she renews and may force her from her home.
"I cannot afford it. I don’t know what I’ll do," Ely said. She explained her two options would be to try to sell, which would be impossible as homes near the water are currently unsellable. The second option would be to "stop paying the mortgage."
"Why aren’t banks getting involved?" Ely asked. "Do they really want to take over twenty five million homes?"
She said she was glad Rep. Waters "came to her senses." She added, "I have one thing to say to Maxine: The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
"I’m outraged our elected officials had no idea what the consequences of this bill would be," Ely said. "Please read these bills before you pass it."
Homeowner Rob Kulessa of Toms River also criticized Waters.
"I just don’t understand. She’s the author of the bill. I have a tough time believing she had a straight face on when she sent that letter," he said.
"Maxine Waters had to know what she was doing. It’s almost as bad as Pelosi," Kulessa said. "Give me a break. It’s nothing more than a cash grab."
He had strong words for FEMA, Waters, and any other elected officials who believe New Jersey homeowners will just accept what is occurring.
"They are finding that the Soprano reputation of New Jersey is quite real," Kulessa said. "Anyone who thinks we will take this lying down is mistaken. We will stand up for what’s right. FEMA and Maxine have messed with the wrong people."
Numerous speakers took to the podium in Toms River, including an insurance agent with 30 years’ experience. She said she could not figure out the new rates after reading the 80 pages of documents related to Biggert-Waters.
Other rally locations reported overflowing crowds. Homeowners filled the American Legion Hall in Broad Channel, N.Y., and many stood in the parking lot.
Around 200 people reportedly gathered for another rally in Scituate, Mass.