State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

As flood insurance costs rise, county planner sees role for state

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jan 28, 2014 5:52 PM
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State lawmakers may have found a bail-out that isn't a hand-out for flood zone homeowners, beset by rising flood insurance premiums that are instilling more fear than actual floods.

For months, property owners anticipating higher insurance rates have been told to look to Congress for an answer. It was, after all, a federal law that was enacted in 2012 to make property owners pay for the risk of living in high flood hazard areas has resulted in spikes in insurance premiums.

"What we can do to best respond to this is not absolutely clear," said Sen. Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia), at the start of a Tuesday Senate committee hearing on the law.

"There's an all-out push in North Carolina to have every citizen there contact their federal representatives," said Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), suggesting state lawmakers hadn't expressed enough concern to Pennsylvania's congressional delegation.

But when Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) asked what state lawmakers could do to help homeowners, it took less than two seconds to get a response from Fran McJunkin, who works in floodplain management for Lycoming County.

"A loan bank," McJunkin said, explaining that since some banks are unwilling to extend loans to homeowners trying to shore up properties in high-risk areas, the state can step in.

"I think it's really important that people are responsible for the mitigation themselves, and this is not a giveaway program," McJunkin said, distinguishing a loan program from a subsidy. "This would be helping people find a path."

Sen. Don White (R-Indiana) said it's just a matter of time before the insurance increases lead to drops in property values.

"This drop in valuation could mean - would mean - significantly less tax revenue for schools and local governments," White continued. "And that is not the local issue. This cascading effect has the potential of occurring in nearly all parts of Pennsylvania."


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