Friday, April 25, 2014

Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley held a Senate hearing this week in the Economic Policy Subcommittee of the Banking Committee to raise awareness about families across Oregon whose flood insurance rates are skyrocketing or who are being forced to buy flood insurance even though they weren't required to in the past. Congress passed flood insurance reforms last year to modernize the program, but since the legislation passed, many middle class families have been burdened by steep rate increases that make it difficult to stay in their homes or sell their homes. The hearing was designed to assess the impact the legislation is having on families and to explore possible solutions.

"The flood insurance bill, in combination with flood zone remapping, is delivering a massive financial blow to middle class families," said Merkley. "This is unacceptable and substantial changes in the program are needed."

The hearing focused on the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which reauthorized and reformed the National Flood Insurance Program. Due to this legislation, many families are now facing huge challenges.

In the hearing, Senator Merkley raised four major concerns for Oregon families.

First, the new flood insurance policies are unaffordable. Many insurance policies that were previously $300-500 per year are now going up to several thousand dollars.

Second, many Oregonians who had been previously told by their lenders they were not required to have flood insurance are now being told by their mortgage lenders that expensive flood insurance policies are being forced on them.

Third, many Oregonians are now unable to sell their home due to the burden flood insurance would place upon their potential buyers. For instance, the Hay family in Eagle Creek has been unable to sell their home and have had potential buyers withdraw their offer after learning that flood insurance will increase ten-fold to $5,000 annually upon sale of their home.

Finally, homeowners carry the burden of proof if they believe their property should not be required to have flood insurance. To prove to a mortgage company that a home is not in a flood plain can cost between $500 and $2,000, and until such proof is provided and accepted, the homeowner must continue to pay flood insurance.

Senator Merkley invited Christine Shirley, Oregon's National Flood Insurance Program Coordinator, to testify at today's hearing and share the experiences she has heard from many Oregon home and business owners who are faced with these new high rates.

She shared a story from the Palmer family in Eugene who told her, "It's one thing to buy a home knowing what you are in for. It's another to have an act of God cause a change that no one could have anticipated. But it's simply wrong to change the terms of an insurance contract at renewal in a manner that could force us out of our home when no flood event has taken place."

This is the second hearing that Senator Merkley has held as chairman of the Economic Policy Subcommittee of the Banking, Housing and Urban Development Committee. The first hearing focused on the state of the American Dream and what steps should be taken to strengthen the middle class.

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