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Tennant tackles flood insurance dilemma

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is meeting with homeowners, realtors and lenders in an effort to come up with solutions to massive flood insurance rate hikes threatened by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act.

The act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, was intended to clamp down on homeowners who knowingly build in floodplains or other risky areas by ending federal subsidies on flood insurance. But lawmakers soon discovered the legislation could mean astronomical increases in flood insurance rates.

"They're trying to make [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] solvent, but they're doing it on the backs of West Virginians," Tennant said. "West Virginians should not be paying the same as someone who has beachfront property that's in the path of a hurricane."

Tennant is about 13 counties into a tour of all 55 West Virginia counties as part of her U.S. Senate election campaign. Tennant, a Democrat, and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., are running for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Tennant said the issue of flood insurance keeps coming up. At a recent meeting, she talked with Jeremy and Sarah Shepherd of Wheeling, whose insurance rates are going from $2,500 a year to $7,600 a year under the provisions of the Biggert-Waters act.

"They're a young couple who came back to West Virginia, started a family and started a business, and now they're faced with these big insurance rates," Tennant said.

At a meeting in Beckley, Tennant talked with 79-year-old Betty Giles, who is faced with massive insurance rates even though the house she has lived in for 55 years has never flooded.

Tennant held a roundtable discussion at the South Charleston Public Library on Wednesday to talk about problems with the flood insurance act and discuss possible remedies.

Tennant pointed out that Capito was one of the original sponsors of the Biggert-Waters act, and promoted the bill's passage on the floor of the House. Although Capito has since acknowledged flaws in the bill and has also met with state residents to help come up with solutions, Tennant said little is being done to help those affected by the act.

"[Capito] doesn't get a pat on the back for passing legislation that hurts West Virginians," Tennant said. "She doesn't get a pass on that."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed a bill delaying implementation of Biggert-Waters for four years, to allow lawmakers time to come up with a solution to the problems created by the act and create a viable flood insurance system. But Tennant said a similar bill - which Capito says she supports - is stalled in the House.

In the meantime, homeowners are stuck not knowing if they will be able to sell their homes or whether they can afford to pay their flood insurance bills, Tennant said.

"The real issue here is how can this happen," she said.

"This is just unconscionable that Washington would cause this problem and then not come together for people who are fearing losing their homes."

Tennant proposes stopping the rate hikes created under the Biggert-Waters act, paying back anyone who has already been hit by the hikes and returning to the drawing board to come up with a risk-based flood insurance rate system that makes more sense than Biggert-Waters.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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