Sun Herald, Biloxi

With questions for FEMA, MS senators fight to halt April flood insurance hike. Here’s how.

By Gautama Mehta

Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith today introduced a bill to protect homeowners from flood insurance rate hikes resulting from a planned overhaul of the National Flood Insurance Program’s pricing system.

The new rates, under a reform to the rate structure known as “Risk Rating 2.0,” are scheduled to go into effect nationwide on April 1.

Risk Rating 2.0 is described by FEMA, the agency that administers the flood insurance program, as a way to more fairly distribute insurance costs by taking into account more flood risk variables than are currently considered. These include flood frequency and rebuilding costs; currently, the rates are set predominantly based on elevation.

Once fully implemented, Risk Rating 2.0 is expected to raise premiums for an estimated 77% of policyholders, and decrease insurance rates for 23%.

In September, a bipartisan group of lawmakers — including Hyde-Smith and Sen. Roger Wicker — wrote a letter to FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell arguing there had been insufficient transparency around how the new rates are calculated.

If passed, Hyde-Smith’s new bill would give all policyholders the option to retain their current rates until FEMA satisfies a number of conditions. These include the public disclosure of the data and methodology underlying the new rate system, a study of Risk Rating 2.0’s economic effects over the next 20 years and a period of public notice and comment regarding the changes.

The bill, known as the Homeowner Flood Insurance Transparency and Protection Act, is co-sponsored by Wicker, as well as Louisiana senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy and Florida’s Marco Rubio, all Republicans.