President to sign relief from flood insurance hikes

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama is set to sign into law a bipartisan bill relieving homeowners living in flood-prone neighborhoods from big increases in their insurance bills.

The bill, which cleared Congress on Thursday, reverses much of a 2012 overhaul of the government’s flood insurance program after angry homeowners facing sharp premium hikes protested.

The Senate’s 72-22 vote sent the House-drafted measure to Obama. White House officials said he’ll sign it.

The bill would scale back big flood insurance premium increases faced by hundreds of thousands of homeowners. The measure also would allow below-market insurance rates to be passed on to people buying homes in flood zones with taxpayer-subsidized policies.

Critics say Washington is caving to political pressure to undo one of the few recent overhauls it has managed to pass.

The hard-fought 2012 rewrite of the federal flood insurance program was aimed at weaning hundreds of thousands of homeowners off of subsidized rates and required extensive updating of the flood maps used to set premiums. But its implementation stirred anxiety among many homeowners along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in flood plains.

The legislation offers its greatest relief to owners of properties that were originally built to code but subsequently were found to be at greater flood risk. Such “grandfathered” homeowners currently benefit from below-market rates that are subsidized by other policyholders, and the new legislation would preserve that status and cap premium increases at 18 percent a year.