Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says he will back a bill to delay increases in federal flood insurance rates, but says he wants to find a solution to the program's costs.
"I'll vote for this bill and I'll support it because it's important to prevent these rate increases from going forward," Rubio said Thursday, USA Today reports
. "But I would like to find some long-term certainty to this."
The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which provides relief for millions of property owners, may reach the Senate floor
by next week. But Rubio, while backing an effort that will help thousands of his own constituents, also is supporting a measure that many of his fellow conservatives don't agree with.
And as a tea party favorite in 2010 and a potential presidential contender for 2016, Rubio's support could cause him problems politically.
"What we're trying to figure out here is how can we prevent these disruptive [rate hikes] but also put in place a mechanism that allows us to begin to deal with the long-term health of this necessary program," he said.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, also backs the rate-increase delay. Florida is being hit particularly hard by unaffordable flood insurance coverage.
"What we're seeing is a very fragile recovery in the real-estate market begin to completely dissipate because folks are finding out about this at the moment they're going to sign. Deals are just dying," said Christine Ross, president of the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, who is in Washington this week to push for the delay.
The rate increases were created in 2012 to make the federal flood insurance program financially solvent. As a result, 25 percent rate hikes have been put on some, but not all properties receiving premium subsidies through the National Flood Insurance Program.
Traditionally, the federal program charged about 40 percent of the full cost of premiums, with taxpayers funding the rest.
The delay, proposed by Sens. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, will slow increases for about four years, until the Federal Emergency Management Agency completes an affordability study. The measure would apply retroactively to the hikes that started on Oct. 1.
Opponents, though, say the delay would cause the program to lose $2.1 billion over the next decade, forcing it to bump up against a $30.4 billion borrowing cap.
"Basically, this bill will make the flood insurance program operate on hand-it-out when needed basis," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
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