Executive Sessionby Senator Charles E. Schumer
Posted on 2013-12-11
SCHUMER. Madam President, first, I wish to assure my colleagues
that they don't have to be wearing a blue jacket to be supportive of
this legislation, as the Senator from North Dakota, the Senator from
Louisiana, and I happen to be wearing this afternoon.
Second, I thank my friend and colleague from Louisiana. What my friend from North Dakota said is exactly right. She has been the Paul Revere of this issue, running up and down the aisles of the Senate, if you will, letting people know--``flood insurance increases are coming; flood insurance increases are coming''--because she saw it in her home State. She has been a great leader, and I hope we will pass the measure she has helped so importantly to craft when it is offered a little later by my colleague from New Jersey.
I wish to say to her that she is exactly right about Sandy. We have families who were devastated by Sandy. They struggled to rebuild their homes. Then, all of a sudden, because of remapping and because of changes in the flood insurance law, they are hit with a flood insurance bill of $800, $900, $1,000. Let's make no mistake about it. These are not wealthy people. Lots of people in New York State who live along the water in Long Island and Queens and Brooklyn and Staten Island are working-class and middle-class people. Their homes are modest. Their jobs are modest. They can't afford $9,000 a year. For those who were told: Yours isn't going to rise, but when you sell your home it will, now they can't sell their homes.
There are some things that make the rest of the Nation scratch their heads in wonderment, saying: What the heck is going on in Washington, DC? There are too many things, and one of them is flood insurance. How can we demand that average, middle-class people pay up to, in some cases, $25,000 or $30,000 a year for a policy that is capped at $250,000? How can we have so many homeowners have to pay $5,000, $8,000, $10,000 when they can ill afford it? We cannot do that. That is why this legislation is so important. It is just wrong.
When we wrote the original Sandy bill, we put in an affordability provision, and there was supposed to be a study about how people could afford the insurance before any increases were put into effect. That did not happen.
I have to say, the people at FEMA are good people, but they do not understand affordability. They are not measuring affordability. They are not paying attention to affordability.
What is the job of Congress? One of our jobs--when an agency does not do what it is supposed to do--is for us to correct it and oversee it, and that is what has happened with FEMA and flood insurance.
So we call for a delay until an affordability study is done, until we can figure out a new way to avoid average folks, middle-class folks, from being forced to either not have flood insurance, abandon their homes, or not sell their homes when they desperately need to do so.
FEMA is saying: If we do not charge these people, the program will not be solvent. I will tell you something. If they continue to charge these rates, no one is going to buy flood insurance. People will drop out of the flood insurance program, and it will be even less solvent. So we have to come to a reasonable, thoughtful, and careful solution.
As the first two of us who have spoken have shown--and my colleagues from Louisiana, New Jersey, Florida, New Hampshire, who are all here to discuss this issue--this affects every part of the Nation. It does not just affect Florida, although they have hurricanes. It does not just affect Louisiana, although they have hurricanes and floods. It affects our great river basins--the Missouri and Mississippi River basins. It affects the west coast, where flash floods can be very, very dangerous. It affects any place that is near water, which is most of America.
We have so many issues. The maps that are drawn are way off base. I have areas in my State that are 5 miles from water and have never been flooded and are included in flood insurance. FEMA actually did not even measure the flood plains in Nassau County and imposed Suffolk County's flood plain. We had to force them to go back and start over.
There is so much wrong with the way the program is now existing that it must be put on hold so we can come up with something better than FEMA is doing.
So I hope my colleagues will support us. We have bipartisan support. The Senator from Georgia has been a great advocate. Others have been great advocates on the other side of the aisle. If you say to yourself: I am going to object because this is not affecting my State, believe me, it will. As FEMA draws maps in State after State across the country, the very same thing that is now afflicting North Dakota, Louisiana, New York, Florida, and New Jersey will afflict your State. You will be coming back to us 2 years from now saying: Hey, let's move that legislation.
Let's avoid that problem. Let's do what we have to do. Put this on hold, go back to the drawing board, and create a FEMA program that both works and is affordable. I believe we can, if this Senate and this House will give us the chance.
[[Page S8619]] I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Brown). The senior Senator from Florida is recognized.