On Friday, the speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to delay implementation of federal flood insurance reform so that FEMA, Congress, and local officials can work to restructure the 45-year-old National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Speaker Robert DeLeo warned that, without the requested delay, coastal residents and businesses face crippling increases in insurance rates, coupled with severe diminution in coastal property values.

The Speaker’s comments stem from actions taken by FEMA in response to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which President Obama signed into law in July 2012. The act, while extending the NFIP through September 2017, also changed a number of basic rules that the NFIP had operated under. Among those changes were the creation of a technical mapping advisory council to modernize FEMA’s flood maps, the end of reduced premiums charged for structures built before FEMA mapped a particular area, and the end of “grandfathering” of rates based on superseded flood maps. Under the new law, when FEMA upgrades an area’s flood risk, structure owners will see their rates go up by 20% each year until their premium meets the new actuarial rate for their flood risk. The magnitude of the rate increases has brought FEMA significant political attention, most notably from Louisiana’s congressional delegation.

Speaker DeLeo urged FEMA to work with Congress to reform the program, and not unduly burden coastal property owners with onerous flood insurance requirements.