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House Passes Six-Week Extension of Flood Program

Source: Dow Jones

Posted on 05 Oct 2011

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U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday enacted a six-week extension of a federal program that allows homeowners to get insurance for properties in flood-prone areas.

The short-term extension, approved as part of a federal spending bill, gives lawmakers more time to complete a bill that would enact reforms to the program and keep it going for five more years.

The National Flood Insurance Program will be allowed to operate through Nov. 18 under the spending bill, which House lawmakers approved by a vote of 352-66. The Senate approved the bill last week and now goes to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature.

Lawmakers are still working on a five-year extension of the flood insurance program that aims to put the debt-strapped program on a better financial footing by raising premiums charged to homeowners. The House passed legislation to do so this summer, but the Senate has yet to finish its version.

The flood insurance program is a federally run system that provides insurance to about 5.6 million homes and businesses.

Under the program, policies are sold and claims are managed by private insurers. The risk, however, is borne by the government. Flood insurance is required for government-backed mortgages on properties in flood-prone areas.

The flood-insurance program currently covers catastrophic losses by borrowing from the U.S. Treasury. As a result, it had almost $18 billion in debt as of June reflecting loans outstanding, mainly from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Last year Congress voted to extend the program through September. Congress has relied on temporary fixes because of an inability to reach agreement on the future of the program.

Ron Phipps, president of the National Association of Realtors, issued a statement calling on Congress to pass a long-term reform of the program "so that taxpaying families won't have to go without essential flood protection and the housing market is provided with the certainty it needs for a recovery."