United States Senators Charles E. Schumer and Richard Durbin introduced a five-year moratorium Thursday on the requirement that Long Island homeowners purchase expensive new flood insurance policies if they live in a community recently designated as a flood zone. Schumer has been highly critical of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood mapping techniques and has been pushing the agency to go back to the drawing board to devise a flood map plan that reflects the on-the-ground realities of communities now being impacted by new flood elevation requirements.
Under existing law, homeowners who live in an area designated as a flood zone are federally mandated to purchase flood insurance. These policies can cost up to $2,000 per year on Long Island. The bill, introduced with Durbin of Illinois, would waive the federal requirement to purchase flood insurance for a five-year period, and make Preferred Risk Policies (PRPs) – a low-cost alternative – available for homeowners who wish to purchase the insurance or are required by their lender to do so. Schumer's bill would also phase in the amount of flood insurance required over an additional five years following the end of the five-year moratorium.
"This legislation would provide relief to Long Island homeowners who are staring in the face of thousands of dollars in additional costs they simply can't afford," Schumer said. "A five-year moratorium and access to cheaper rates, will give homeowners the time to challenge these maps more effectively and allow us to more fully examine the methods FEMA used to draft these new maps."
At a meeting in Valley Stream Village Hall this past September, Schumer pointed out that the maps used are inaccurate, outdated, and have flawed survey techniques. He also noted that some of the impacted communities have no history of significant flooding, yet were included in flood map plans because of FEMA's decision to increase base flood elevations. Schumer questioned the scientific and historical justification for some of these increases.
In September 2009, FEMA implemented new flood maps throughout Nassau County that forced over 20,000 new homeowners to purchase flood insurance plans, that most had previously not been required to have, of up to $2,000 per year. In communities like Valley Stream, Massapequa Park, and throughout the Town of Hempstead, areas which have little to no recorded history of significant flooding to the new base elevation levels, residents are being forced to purchase insurance at the same levels as coastal communities.
Testifying at a Senate Banking Committee hearing in September, Schumer laid out a series of concerns with the maps including the use of old GIS data mapping techniques that can be inexact in measuring elevation levels of homes and failure to include historical data on flooding in impacted communities.
"Serious and credible concerns have been raised by residents and local communities about access to and accuracy of the data that was used to impose these maps," Schumer said. "This bill will provide a significant reprieve to residents as we continue to sort out and scrutinize the modeling that was used to create these maps."