Schumer launches push to reauthorize flood funds

Program scheduled to expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress extends the program
US Senator Chuck Schumer visits the Stockade on Friday, September 6, 2019.
US Senator Chuck Schumer visits the Stockade on Friday, September 6, 2019.

SCHENECTADY — With Hurricane Dorian sputtering out, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, is pushing Congress to reauthorize funding for a federal flood insurance program. 

Funding for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress extends the program designed to protect homeowners from flooding. 

Despite a series of deadline extensions, Congress has been unable to agree on a long-term reauthorization plan.

Schumer’s proposal would reauthorize the program for five years, and contains several reform measures, including limiting annual increases to 9 percent, capping profits for private insurance companies and including funding for mitigation efforts.

“We cannot keep getting to the edge of the proverbial cliff when it comes to reauthorizing the NFIP because it drives communities mad, and rightfully so,” said Schumer, who is launching a bipartisan push for his National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2019. 

Schumer delivered comments in the city’s Stockade neighborhood, which was ravaged by flooding following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, but also grits its teeth each spring as the Mohawk River swells with runoff from the Adirondacks and Catskills. 

A lapse wouldn’t mean the federal agency would halt insurance payments of valid claims with “available funds,” according to FEMA. But the federal agency would stop selling and renewing policies for millions of properties in communities across the nation, including 2,250 in the Capital Region, according to Schumer’s office. 

The funding cliff is paired with ongoing efforts by the Trump administration to push the program toward privatization, he said.

Legislation pending in the House presents an additional threat that would result in double-digit rate increases, he said. 

Homeowner Mary D’Alessandro painted calamitous impact on homeowners and the real estate market. 

“If this doesn’t go through, people who want flood insurance can’t get it,” she said. “I can’t imagine what would happen to these homes if they don’t have flood insurance.”

Private flood insurance can be prohibitively expensive, she said, and many rely on the federal program. 

D’Alessandro, who lives at the Washington Avenue home where Schumer delivered his remarks, said she pays $5,000 annually — a number driven up because their home is the floodplain map redrawn after Tropical Storm Irene left much of the neighborhood underwater. 

And it could happen again.

“We’re just one event away from another high-water storm,” said Mayor Gary McCarthy. 

Schumer pledged to explore reasons for the spike. 

Nationwide, the National Association of Realtors estimates that a lapse might impact approximately 40,000 home sale closings per month, according to FEMA.

“If the flood insurance expires, no one is going to be able to sell their home,” said D’Alessandro.

Earlier this year, city officials conducted a week-long series of flood mitigation workshops.

FEMA will allocate $7.5 million for solutions.

Schumer on Friday said a pot of $3.6 billion in flood resilience funds remains available, and the city may be able to tap into that for its Stockade Flood Mitigation Project 

“We can help you get some of that,” Schumer said.

Stockade residents were presented with a list of possible remediation options at the workshops to make their neighborhood more resilient against flooding. 

Scenarios including building floodgates or a berm, moving select homes to higher ground and elevating homes and streets. 

Any of the options would require a massive engineering project, dramatically reshaping parts of the neighborhood in ways unseen in generations.

City Director of Development Kristin Diotte said the city would “potentially” seek some of those available funds.

“We’re trying to come up with a resilient master plan for the Stockade and we know that this additional funding will not cover in full the cost of the resilient master plan,” she said. “The idea is to leverage support around the things that we’re looking for.”

Diotte said the city met with property owners in August to offer a progress report, as well as to try to build consensus around a preferred alternative.

Historical and environment assessments are ongoing, and a moving company is studying the feasibility of elevating and moving large structures, she said.

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