Homeowners rally against flood insurance changes

MUNCY – Another local rally was held focusing on the growing fear by homeowners living in floodplains that they will be paying drastically higher flood insurance rates.

At a rally Saturday, about 80 people, including U.S. Rep. Thomas A. Marino, R-Cogan Station, gathered at Trout Pond Park to hear complaints from homeowners, some of who once paid $700 annually and now must pay $10,000 or more to get the flood coverage.

The rally cry was to repeal the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act signed into law in 2012, a law removing all subsidies from flood insurance over time because the flood insurance program is deeply in debt due to hurricanes and bad storms since 2005.

With the removal of the subsidies, homeowners flood insurance rates are jumping thousands of dollars.

“This is a criminal act, intentionally or non-intentionally,” said Jeff Smead, organizer of the rally and part of a larger national organization know as Stop FEMA Now. FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The millions of dollars in claims paid out by FEMA has put the agency $26 billion in debt, according to the Lycoming County Department of Planning and Community Development.

Smead said prior to the federal law he had been paying $754 a year for flood insurance, but has been told the new rate would be $10,960.

Claiming he was stressed and fearful of losing his property, Smead said he and his wife tried to find answers over the telephone but got little information. The couple eventually took out a line of credit and paid off their mortgage.

“We were given no warning of the rate hikes,” Smead said.

Jeff Waltman, a homeowner, said his insurance rate went from $592 a year to $9,096.

“That’s for a home with a value of $60,000,” he said. “Where were the red flags?” he asked.

Waltman said he was never notified about the hike by the state Finance Housing Agency.

George Kasimos, a real estate broker from New Jersey, who coordinates the Stop FEMA Now national group, said rallies such as the one Saturday are necessary to get the attention of mayors, community leaders and the public.

Kasimos claimed, as an example of FEMA’s alleged misuse of its funds, that in Texas the agency once paid a homeowner with a property valued at $116,000 $2 million.

“You could have bought the house 17 times over,” he said.

“We have to repeal this legislation,” Marino said indicating he will soon introduce legislation to repeal the flood insurance law.

“We need to keep the subsidies going,” Marino said.

Marino said the problem is Washington D.C. bureaucrat who don’t understand the financial burdens those faced by living in floodplains in communities along the river – such as Muncy, Jersey Shore, Montgomery and Montoursville – face. These are communities frequently hit by flooding that continue to have properties in the floodplain.

Marino promised he won’t allow the “can to be kicked down the road” without raising enough hell in Washington.

“We have quite a few Congressmen and Senators who have asked to sit in conference on both sides,” Marino said, promising action as soon as Tuesday.