Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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March 24, 2014

Flood insurance still on the rise despite new law

JERSEY SHORE, Pa. — This small, central Pennsylvania river town doesn't have beach homes or boardwalks, but it shares more than a name with the famous stretch of New Jersey coastline 250 miles to the east.

Both are among the thousands of places around the U.S. where people could face trouble in the years ahead because of the rising cost of government-mandated flood insurance.

Earlier this month, Congress sought to ease their fears of sky-high premiums by rolling back a 2012 reform ending the government's costly practice of offering subsidized insurance for older homes and businesses in flood zones. The president signed the bill Friday.

But while the law was widely hailed as a victory for people who had seen their bills triple, quadruple or even increase 15-fold overnight, pocketbook pain for many has merely been delayed.

As many as 1.1 million policyholders with subsidized government insurance will still be hit with steady rate increases. While no one is sure yet how high rates will go, there is cause for worry in cities and towns that rely on affordable policies to keep businesses afloat and prop up the local housing market.

Lifelong Jersey Shore residents Lurie and Michael Portanova bought up a row of quaint, 19th-century brick shops along the West Branch Susquehanna River and have been lovingly restoring them. They found out a few months ago that the annual flood insurance premium on two buildings they bought in 2012 had soared from less than $3,000 to a minimum of $26,868.

Now, thanks to the congressional rollback, that rate will reset to where it was before — only to immediately start climbing again, year after year. Within five years, the bill will be more than $8,700. Within a decade, it will be more than $26,000.

"There's no way we can afford that. Just no way," said Michael Portanova. "We'd have to let it go back to the bank and walk away from it."

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