Senate passes flood insurance extension hours before deadline

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WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a four-month extension to the National Flood Insurance Program Tuesday, less than a day before the program was set to expire.

The bill, which had originated in the House, will now go to President Trump, who has until midnight to sign it to avoid a lapse in the program.

“The Senate just passed my bipartisan bill enabling 140 million Americans to have flood insurance through hurricane season,” Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., one of the bill's primary sponsors, wrote on Twitter. “We got this done, despite the dysfunction in Washington.”

Twelve Republican senators opposed the extension.

The House passed the extension last week, declining to take up a separate bill to both extend and institute reforms to the program, including improving flood mapping and loss mitigation efforts.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, had pushed his colleagues to vote against the bill that would only lengthen the program until November, and instead endorsed the reform bill sponsored by Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

This marks the seventh time Congress has had to reauthorize the program — which is $20 billion in debt — since September 2017. Lawmakers and industry groups alike agree that the program needs vital reforms, but many believe a short-term reauthorization is better than having the program lapse in the absence of reforms.

The National Association of Realtors estimated that if the program were to lapse at the end of July, there would be 40,000 fewer home sales per month.

“We applaud lawmakers for taking this needed action to prevent disruptions to closings in thousands of communities across the country,” Elizabeth Mendenhall, the head of the Realtor group, said in a statement. “Although the National Flood Insurance Program will be extended through November 30 when signed into law, the NFIP is in desperate need of reforms that will make it solvent and sustainable in the long term.”

SmarterSafer, a national coalition of insurance stakeholders, housing organizations and mitigation advocates, urged Congress to use the next four months to develop reforms for the program.

“Leaders in Congress should not continue to allow short-term extensions that reinforce the status quo, but should pass a comprehensive legislative package that addresses the NFIP’s financial insolvency and better protects the environment and people in harm’s way,” the group said in a statement.

Five million property owners, renters and businesses depend on the program for flood insurance, and people looking to buy property in FEMA-designated flood zones are required to have flood insurance to qualify for a mortgage.

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