Florida wades deeper into hurricane season as the debate heightens over what to do with the deeply indebted National Flood Insurance Program and its coverage of properties prone to repeated flooding.

The Sunshine State ranked fourth nationally in damages paid by the national program since 1978 to rebuild homes and businesses that have suffered repeated and severe flood losses, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Resources Defense Council. The group has urged a house-buyout program for flood-weary residents, rather than bailing them out time and again.

In Florida, more than 1,600 properties have flooded an average of five times, according to the council's review of data from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Flood potential remains a risk as Central Florida's lakes continue to rise with daily afternoon-storm deluges — with more than three months left in hurricane season. Last year's Hurricane Matthew was a reminder of Florida's vulnerability. Of 119,345 insurance claims filed related to that storm, more than half have been paid, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

The nation's flood-insurance piggy bank is set to expire in late September. If the program ends, no new policies would be written and home sales requiring flood insurance could suffer. The impact would be felt in Florida, which has about a third of the country's 5 million policies.

Facing $24 billion of debt, the program faces calls for an end or overhaul from nonprofit groups and federal lawmakers.

Lake County resident Dolores Blood owns a DeBary-area rental duplex that flooded with several feet of water in 2008 when parts of Volusia County were inundated with unusually high rainfalls. The insurance works for property where flooding isn't expected but it should not cover places known for being under water repeatedly, she said.

"If you live on the beach, then you pay a premium," said Blood, who saw her flood insurance rates double last year almost a decade after getting $82,000 for each of two duplex buildings that flooded.

The National Resources Defense Council this week proposed a plan allowing repeated flood victims to sign up for a buyout program in the event that their property floods again. FEMA would, if high waters again cause damage, then fund local governments to purchase flood-prone homes or businesses and demolish them to provide more open space.

"The National Flood Insurance Program was designed to help Americans recover from flood disasters, but it can also unintentionally 'trap' homeowners who would prefer to move somewhere safer," stated a spokesman for the council. "Instead of moving, many policyholders find themselves rebuilding their homes again and again."

Other plans call for shifting the insurance program to the private sector. Also, Sen. Bill Nelson co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to extend the program six months and reduce a cap on premium increases from 25 percent to 10 percent.

Tribune Content Agency