Politics

Stop FEMA Rallies Planned Across the Country

New flood insurance rates could force homeowners to move

AP

Rallies are being planned in several states on Saturday to protest the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), its new flood maps, and the Biggert-Waters Act that will result in higher flood insurance rates.

Stop FEMA rallies are currently planned in Hawaii, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Florida, Vermont, and Alabama. Multiple rallies will take place in New Jersey, New York, and Louisiana.

Organizers of the protests are fighting the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act, which passed in July 2012. The law authorized FEMA to issue new flood maps that will raise flood insurance premiums for many homeowners.

Many say the law will cause financial hardship for millions.

"Over 5.5 million flood insurance policyholders across the country will be socked with huge annual premiums, making their homes unaffordable and virtually unsellable," George Kasimos, founder of Stop FEMA Now and a Hurricane Sandy victim from New Jersey, said in a press release.

"That’s why we’re joining with other citizens’ organizations to raise our voices on September 28th. Public rallies will be held in several states—so that we get the attention of Congress," Kasimos said. "Until the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act that empowers FEMA is fixed, we’re not going to go away quietly."

As more homeowners become aware of the federal law and its impact, Kasimos said the grassroots movement is growing across the nation.

Kasimos told the Free Beacon that he originally expected rallies in only New York and New Jersey this upcoming Saturday. "Now we have 10 states, it is overwhelming," he said. "We’re not a well-funded group. Now we’re reaching Hawaii and Alabama."

Belle Harbor, N.Y. resident Palmer Doyle, a retired New York City firefighter, said his annual flood insurance premium will rise from its current $458 to $9,000 by 2014.

"How am I going to pay? Where am I getting $9,000?" he asked. "This is going to be a killer."

Doyle said he has two children in college and lives on a pension.

He is one of the organizers of the rally that is planned in Broad Channel, N.Y., and will include the Far Rockaways, Breezy Point, and Howard Beach communities.

"The Biggert-Waters Act and National Flood Insurance Program are in position to kill neighborhoods," he said. "They will price people out of homes."

Small business owners will also be affected.

Doyle said he has spoken to many small business owners and said they are "extremely worried" about rate increases as many are already heavily in debt since they borrowed to reopen their businesses after Hurricane Sandy.

Now they are facing another great challenge with premium hikes in the thousands.

Seniors who live in the communities will also be impacted hard, according to Doyle, as they live on fixed incomes and do not have the means to pay thousands of dollars in flood insurance premiums.

Doyle said he wasn’t sure how many would be attending the rally, but indicated it could be between 500 and 3,000 people.

"Everyone has to get involved to stop FEMA," Doyle said.

Stop FEMA Now wants congressional hearings to address the Biggert-Waters Act and the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) new premiums. The group says the effects will be "mass home abandonments and foreclosures from coast to coast."

"If this goes through, it will make the 2007 housing bubble crash look like a walk in the park," said Kasimos. "The Biggert-Waters Act is an ongoing disaster that can cause more damage than any storm ever did. September 28th will be the start of national collective action to make Congress correct that misguided legislation."

Lawmakers passed the Biggert-Waters Act to put the NFIP on more solid footing and make it a more sustainable program. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the NFIP owed the government almost $24 billion as of July 31 in a report released earlier this month.

"Over the years, the costs and consequences have continued to increase," FEMA said on its website. "For the NFIP to remain sustainable, its premium structure must reflect the true risks and costs of flooding."

FEMA chief Craig Fugate testified last week on the Biggert-Waters Act before the Senate banking committee's economic policy subcommittee. He said that "without additional legislative support" there is nothing he can do to stop the rate increases. He acknowledged there is "no provision for affordability in this bill."

The rollout of flood insurance maps has begun for New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Massachusetts, as well as one county in Florida. Flood maps for other states will gradually be rolled out.

As Fugate indicated, homeowners will see the premium increases when they renew their policies.

Homeowners who live on each coast will not be the only ones whose rates increase. A National Flood Insurance Map shows how many flood insurance policyholders exist across the country that potentially could be impacted.

FEMA’s published timeline of the Biggert-Waters Act shows when certain policyholders can expect premium increases to occur.