With the National Flood Insurance Program set for reauthorization in September, District 19 Congressman Francis Rooney said he would be sure Florida got a better deal.
Rooney spoke to a room of concerned real estate professionals at the Royal Palm Coast Realtor Association lunch in Fort Myers Tuesday to belay fears of skyrocketing premiums.
"We're paying out a lot more than we're getting back," he said. "We have to make our (Florida) issues known."
Congressman Francis Rooney speaks to a group at the Royal Palm Coast Realtor Association lunch.
In coastal areas of Florida, all homeowners with a mortgage are required to obtain flood insurance. These premiums feed into the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which pays out when properties are destroyed from a flood.
Currently it is managed by the federal government, as private insurers pulled out of the program years ago. Rooney said the private sector is hoping to be brought back in with the reauthorization, which could ultimately make the insurance market more competitive and drive premiums down.
"The idea is to keep (insurance) from going up," Rooney said. "The federal option needs to be reasonable."
Rooney wants to see the federal insurance backstock - the pot of money premiums currently pay into - stay in place to keep the program out of debt. But one of his biggest priorities as the reauthorization goes forward is amending the plan to "deal with" repetitive loss properties. These are properties which flood out frequently and take federal funding to rebuild. Florida is not a contributor, he said, it's areas with lakes or rivers that flood seasonally.
"We need to find out where they are and isolate those risks so that others are not paying the price," he said.
Karen Swanbeck, CEO of the Realtor association and former committee member for multiple insurance committees, said the congressman spoke very clearly about his position to protect Florida interests with the reauthorization.
Right now, flood insurance is given primarily through the federal government, and only Florida has a few private sector providers.
"Florida has taken the lead nationally with the private markets here, but to be successful, that needs to happen on a national level," Swanbeck said.
She also thinks flood insurance will have more homeowners buying a plan if premiums go down - homeowners whose properties are paid off are not getting these plans, because it's no longer required once the mortgage is finished. Some get plans privately, she said, but with premiums so high, many don't bother. Should competitive pricing drive down plan costs, more might buy in.
"More companies will make it more competitive," she said.
But flood insurance wasn't the only thing on the collective mind of the approximately 50 attendees. During the Q&A, Rooney was questioned on everything from federal healthcare reform to environmental issues in Florida.
Rooney has been an advocate for acquiring the funds for previously-approved projects to address pollution in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, specifically the 68 individual projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
"We've got to follow the Integrated Delivery Schedule (of CERP)," he said. "There may be disagreements on which projects are more important but either way, we have to follow it."
He recently hosted a member of the federal appropriations committee to come and see the projects that federal funds have already helped with in Florida in an attempt to make non-Floridian politicians understand the importance of restoring water quality to his state.
"I've made a point of learning what I can about the issues and I'm trying to influence people to authorize already-approved projects," Rooney said at the lunch.