U.S. Senator Bob Menendez threw Shore residents a virtual lifeline Thursday, delivering an address on the Senate floor where he urged colleagues to support an amendment to federal legislation that would stop flood insurance rate hikes, at least in the short term.
Menendez (D-NJ) spoke in favor of an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act which would stop flood insurance premiums from rising until FEMA completes its study on the affordability of premiums of the National Flood Insurance Program.
Shore homeowners face annual flood insurance premiums of up to $31,000 a year if they do not raise their homes at a significant cost. Many homeowners who were never previously located in flood zones now find themselves being listed as living in flood-prone areas with a requirement to buy the insurance to maintain their mortgages.
Menendez said New Jersey residents have come to him in tears, saying they are afraid they may lose their homes.
"These are hard-working middle-class families who have played by the rules, purchased flood insurance responsibly, and now are being priced out of the only home in which they have ever lived," he said. "This amendment would delay these potentially devastating changes until FEMA completes its study on premium affordability."
Federal legislation passed last year requires FEMA to conduct an affordability study, but ten months later, the study has not been conducted. The ammendment favored by Menendez would require that study to be conducted before any rate hikes could take place.
"It is like a triple whammy," Menendez said. "We have the consequences of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated homes, so they have to rebuild. Many times, that insurance didn't rise to the level of the cost of rebuilding. Secondly, and as a result of flood maps that came in after the storm, there are now requirements for new elevations. Thirdly, the premiums are going to skyrocket because the subsidies go down. So we have a triple whammy."
Paul Brubaker, Menendez' press secretary, said the senator has also been pushing for vouchers to be made available to help homeowners afford flood insurance policies.