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Schumer debuts flood bill

Would protect against higher insurance premiums

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Nearly seven years after Hurricane Sandy, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer announced the details of a new flood insurance reform bill that aims to protect New York residents from high flood insurance premiums before the National Flood Insurance Program expires in September.

At a news conference in Freeport on Wednesday, Schumer said that the bill would extend the program — which provides affordable flood insurance to millions of property owners and renters nationwide —by five years, and cap annual premium hikes at 9 percent, while also freezing interest payments on the program’s debt. He added that the average annual premium would increase by no more than $90.

The current program is set to expire on Sept. 30, which, Schumer told reporters, would leave tens of thousands of people on Long Island without flood insurance, and at the mercy of insurance companies.

“Since the aftermath of Sandy, we here on Long Island have called it like it is when it comes to the NFIP — a far too complex set up that too often benefits insurance companies over homeowners,” Schumer said. “And I’m here today to report that there’s a good chance we will be able to extend this program for years to come.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides homeowners with flood insurance through the NFIP, which covers roughly 5 million policyholders across the country, including tens of thousands on Long Island, officials said.

Schumer, along with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, State Sen. John Brooks, Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy and village Trustee Christopher Squeri announced the reform as Hurricane Dorian was reported to be bearing down on Puerto Rico and likely headed toward Florida.

Schumer said that after Sandy, 144,000 policyholders on Long Island filed claims, but some insurance companies didn’t cover enough for home repairs, and homeowners were “ripped off” by those insurers.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, was described as a bipartisan plan that will help homeowners continue to get affordable flood insurance.

Jean Jordan, a Freeport resident, said at the news conference that she was paying $2,800 per year for flood insurance, that her family had been in the same home since 1966 and that they would have to leave if the cost kept increasing. “I’m a single mother with two children,” she said. “If they increase any further, I’m done here.”

Schumer said that the average Long Island homeowner pays close to $1,000 a year for flood insurance, but some South Shore residents may pay as much as $3,000.

“There are over 20,000 NFIP policies in the Town of Hempstead that are held by approximately 65,000 local residents,” Gillen said. “All of them could face skyrocketing premiums if something is not done.”

Gillen added that if no action is taken, rising premiums will force longtime residents to leave their communities.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Max Rose, who represents parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn, held a news conference at which he expressed his concerns about high premiums. According to the Staten Island Advance, Rose said he was told by FEMA’s acting administrator, Peter Gaynor, that annual flood insurance premiums could increase by as much as 18 percent when the program expires.

In April, Schumer visited Long Beach, where he called on FEMA to halt a plan to revamp the insurance program called Risk Rating 2.0, saying that the change would make premiums unaffordable for residents, forcing them to drop coverage or leave, and in turn reduce property values.

Acting City Manager Rob Agostisi told reporters at the time that the NFIP’s risk calculation method for setting premiums included the cost of rebuilding. In a Sandy-ravaged community like Long Beach, where hundreds of homes have been rebuilt and elevated to comply with FEMA standards, many residents would be priced out of the program, officials said.

Long Beach resident Liz Treston, chairwoman of Long Beach Community Organizations Active in Disasters, a group that assists residents after natural disasters — and a Democratic candidate for City Council this year — said she supported Schumer’s plan, and stressed the importance of the new reform bill. She added that homeowners need to educate themselves about their insurance. “People need to read their insurance policies,” Treston said, “and be more aware of what the insurance covers.”

Schumer plans to try and extend the September deadline, while also gathering more support for the reform bill said, Schumer's Press Security Angelo Roefaro.