Surveying the Capitol: The Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011 Provides Opportunity for Input
Professional Surveyor Magazine - October 2011
arlier this year, the House of Representatives passed the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2011
(H.R. 1309). In addition to dealing with reforming flood insurance, it includes opportunities for surveying and mapping professionals to give input to the floodmapping process.
H.R. 1309 reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through September 30, 2016 and amends the NFIP to ensure its immediate and near-term fiscal and administrative health. The bill also ensures the NFIP’s continued viability by encouraging broader participation in the program, increasing financial accountability, eliminating unnecessary rate subsidies, and updating the program to meet future needs.
The key provisions of H.R. 1309 include:
- a five-year reauthorization of the NFIP,
- a three-year delay in the mandatory purchase requirement for certain properties in newly designated Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs)
- a phase-in of full-risk, actuarial rates for areas newly designated as SFHAs
- a reinstatement of the Technical Mapping Advisory Council, and
- an emphasis on greater private sector participation in providing flood insurance coverage.
In administering the NFIP, FEMA identifies and maps flood-prone areas eligible to participate in the program and sets land-use controls and building codes that flood-prone communities are required to adopt and enforce in order to participate in the program. FEMA issues Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) that delineate SFHAs determined to have a “one chance in 100” of flooding in any given year (the 100-year floodplain).
Because FIRMs determine where and at what rate insurance under the program is required, outdated or inaccurate FIRMs result in flood-prone properties being left out of the program or being charged insufficient rates. FEMA currently is engaged in a multi-year flood map modernization program to update, revise, and digitize more than 20,000 flood maps, some of which date back to the 1970s. The revising, updating, and promulgation of these new flood maps have drawn considerable attention around the country because revised SFHAs include properties that have not previously required flood insurance.
H.R. 1309 would authorize other activities, including reestablishing a Technical Mapping Advisory Council, updating flood maps to incorporate new standards within five years, and issuing several reports on the NFIP. The cost of some of those activities would be offset by fee collections paid by policyholders.
Section 6 of the Flood Insurance Reform Act would reestablish the Technical Mapping Advisory Council (TMAC) to develop and recommend new mapping standards for FIRMs. The council would bring together the FEMA administrator as well as representatives of federal agencies with mapping responsibilities, representatives of state governments, representatives of local governments, and private-sector experts to review and propose new mapping standards within one year. FEMA then would be required, within six months, to revise its criteria for updating flood hazard maps based on the council’s recommendations. The TMAC also would assist FEMA in addressing mapping issues as they arise.
The TMAC would include representatives from FEMA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Army Corps of Engineers, other federal agencies, state and local governments, as well as experts from private stakeholder groups, including surveying and mapping groups. The last time the TMAC was in place, ACSM was a member and had an opportunity to give input to the floodmapping process. The council would submit the new standards to FEMA and the Congress within 12 months of enactment and would continue to review those standards for four additional years, at which time the TMAC would be terminated.
Section 7 of the Flood Insurance Reform Act directs FEMA to implement new standards for FIRMs. Beginning six months after the Technical Mapping Advisory Council issues its initial set of recommendations, FEMA would have five years to update all FIRMs to incorporate the new standards, subject to the availability of appropriated funds. The greatest costs likely would arise from determining the level of protection afforded by decertified levees; however, because the new standards would be based on recommendations made by the TMAC and on findings from studies required in the bill (for example, graduated risk), it is unclear how the new standards and the cost to implement them would differ from those currently in use.
This section also provides for a temporary suspension of the existing requirement for mandatory flood-insurance until the new mapping protocols are implemented for any property with the lowest level at least three feet higher than the elevation of the 100-year flood plain (the property owner must submit an elevation study documenting this).
Based in part on the projected costs of implementing FEMA’s Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning program (which would incorporate some of the new standards in this section), the Congressional Budget Office estimates implementing this section would cost $314 million over the 2012-2016 period. All expenditures would be subject to appropriation of the necessary amounts.
H.R. 1309 would make other changes to current law, including authorizing FEMA to make flood-mitigation grants directly to property owners (under current law, funding is provided through communities), authorizing the use of Community Development Block Grant funds for building-code enforcement and flood-program outreach, and authorizing the reimbursement of certain costs associated with a successful challenge to a bona fide mapping error made by FEMA resulting in a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA), not including legal fees.
Based on information from FEMA, reimbursements of expenses related to LOMAs could total as much as $15 million annually; however, those costs would likely be recouped through increases in premiums or fees paid by policyholders, resulting in no net effect on the federal budget.
Although the Flood Insurance Reform Act has passed the House in early July, as of the date of this article, the Senate is still considering the bill. It is currently in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Also, based on the recent and continuing fiscal debate in Washington, some of the programs in the Flood Insurance Reform Act that depend on future Congressional appropriations may be cut or eliminated altogether.
About the Author
Laurence SocciLaurence Socci is the chief executive manager and senior lobbyist of The CLA Group, LLC, a government consulting, lobbying, and advocacy firm in Washington, D.C., specializing in representing businesses and associations. He is also the government affairs consultant for the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM).
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