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Waters Floor Statement in Opposition to the 21st Century Flood Reform Act

Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services, made the following floor statement in opposition to the H.R. 2874, the 21st Century Flood Reform Act:

As Prepared for Delivery

I rise today in opposition to H.R. 2874, legislation that will make flood insurance more expensive, less available, and less fair for consumers.

At the outset, let me just say that I appreciate the time and effort that Chairman Hensarling and Mr. Duffy spent responding to my calls for bipartisanship. We sat down multiple times to discuss areas where we could find compromise and a path forward. Although our discussions were ultimately not successful, and I strongly oppose this bill, I continue to believe that flood insurance really can be a bipartisan issue.

In fact, I have a long history of working across the aisle on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). In 2012, I coauthored the Biggert-Waters Act with former Representative Judy Biggert, and in 2014, when FEMA’s botched implementation of the premium increases called for in that law led to unintended consequences, lawmakers from across the aisle joined me once again to pass the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Members from both sides of the aisle, I cannot support H.R. 2874 because it contains many provisions that will harm American families and businesses.

First, and most importantly, the bill makes flood insurance more expensive. This bill will punish lower- and middle-class Americans with increased premiums, surcharges, and reserve fund assessments. In the wake of a historic hurricane season that devastated so many communities, it is unconscionable that we are considering a bill that would make flood insurance less affordable. We should be focusing on providing additional disaster relief and recovery after these devastating storms, not punishing these communities with higher premiums and surcharges. It is clear that there are those who choose to live near the coast as a luxury. But there are also those who live in floodplains who are low and middle income families with modest homes, including some neighborhoods that are predominately minority. This is because of the sad history of government-endorsed racism in access to credit, and in neighborhood planning that pushed minorities into the “bad parts of town,” which in some cases were bad because they were prone to flooding. These communities also often lack the resources to make upgrades to their homes and infrastructure to guard against future flood risk, and are the least able to recover after a flood. The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans is a prime example.

Another example is Greenspoint, a business district in Houston that was one of the hardest hit by Harvey. One in Three residents in Greenspoint lives below the poverty line. Families in Greenspoint were still living in water-damaged and moldy units from flooding last year when they were hit again by Harvey.

There is no simple answer to our nation’s flooding problems but I do know that raising premiums, and racking up fees on policyholders, will only hurt families, as well as our economy.

Second, the bill makes flood insurance less available by allowing businesses to opt out of the requirement to purchase flood insurance, even if they are a high risk property in a flood zone. What’s more, the bill kicks out certain low-value homes from the NFIP by prohibiting coverage for any home with claims that – over the entire history of the property following enactment, even if it changes hands – exceed three times the replacement value of the structure. This provision is so ill-conceived that the American Bankers Association wrote, “cutting off such properties from NFIP coverage will likely lead to significant hardship for homeowners, lenders and communities. As borrowers lose NFIP coverage, and especially if alternative private coverage is not available or affordable, these properties will lose value and the risk of abandonment and/or foreclosure increases dramatically. In some flood prone communities, this could lead to a local or regional foreclosure crisis.”

Third, the bill makes flood insurance less fair for policyholders. In the wake of this historic hurricane season, it is astounding to me that the bill does nothing to fund flood maps so that we can better protect families. Often times, communities are unaware of their true flood risks and by not providing any funding for flood maps, building in areas with no information about flood risk will only continue.

Climate change will only make these storms more frequent, stronger and more devastating than ever before, and we must make sure that the NFIP remains available and affordable to all Americans, not make it worse.

For all of these reasons, I urge my colleagues to oppose H.R. 2874 and I reserve the balance of my time.


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