The National Flood Insurance Program, which covers 5 million American families, including more than 220,000 New Jerseyans, expires at the end of September.

In response, the National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2019 has been unveiled in our nation’s capital. The legislation builds upon a National Flood Insurance measure proposed in 2017 by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

He said it’s important to expand the nation’s flood insurance program because so many people depend on it to protect themselves “from financial ruin in the event of flood damage.”

He noted, as many Garden State residents learned in the seven years after Superstorm Sandy, the NFIP is riddled with dysfunction.

“Sandy survivors faced more than just a devastating natural disaster, they faced a man-made disaster in the form of a flood insurance claim process that was stacked against them at every turn," Menendez said.

He said the NFIP is plagued by soaring premiums, falling participation rates and chronic under investment in flood prevention and mitigation.

“Continually hiking premiums is not a path to sustainability, it’s a death sentence," he said. "Huge rate increase will push even more homeowners to leave the program.”

Menendez said the reauthorization and Reform Act of 2019 includes reforms “to make premiums more affordable for low and middle income Americans, it will strengthen sustainability by freezing interest payments and making real investments in mitigation.”

He pointed out the bipartisan legislation being introduced makes flood insurance more affordable by capping rate increases at 9% a year, and calls for spending $400 million a year on mitigation efforts.

He said evidence shows that every dollar spent on flood mitigation generates $6 in savings.

“That’s why our legislation includes mandatory funding to buy out and elevate properties that repeatedly flood," he said.

He said the legislation also strengthens oversight over FEMA insurance contractors “and includes real, pro consumer reforms.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J. 1st District, a strong supporter of the legislation in the House, said if the National Flood Insurance program isn’t fixed, real estate will be devalued and realty transfer tax revenues will drop which must happen.

He noted having an affordable, functional Flood Insurance Program is key to the real estate industry in South Jersey.

“This is not about rich people with big houses, this is about commerce, it’s about business, it’s about industry that’s located close to the water. It is also about homes that average people live in.”

Supporters say the Reauthorization and Reform Act would also:

— Provide a comprehensive means-tested voucher for millions of low- and middle-income homeowners and renters if their flood insurance premium causes their housing costs to exceed 30% of their adjusted gross income, significantly increasing the affordability of the NFIP program.

— Mandate more accurate flood mapping.

— Reform the claims process based on lessons learned after Sandy

— Freeze interest payments on the NFIP debt and reinvests savings towards mitigation efforts to restore the program to solvency and reduce future borrowing.

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