Thursday, February 28, 2008

Big Changes in Long Island Flood Insurance

Aaron Stein, Long Island Insurance By Aaron J. Stein

Hello all, and please accept my apologies for not having written a blog entry in quite some time. But this morning's Newsday article regarding flood insurance had something in it that got me so frustrated that I had to write.

The article is about the re-mapping of flood zones on Long Island by the FEMA, the government agency in charge of the national flood insurance program. They are using new equipment and techniques to reevaluate all the flood maps which may or may not result in people now being required by their bank or mortgage company to carry flood insurance where they may not have been required before.

FEMA is suggesting that some who live near a flood zone are currently outside of it might want to think about purchasing flood insurance now because the price may change dramatically if they are included in a flood zone after the new maps are issued. For instance right now someone who is not in a flood hazard area here on Long Island would pay under $400 for the maximum flood insurance available from the government. If your house is deemed to be in a flood hazard area when the new maps are complete your rate could easily be four to five times higher.

Under FEMA rules, if you have a flood insurance in place and your zone changes you grandfathered in to the old zone for as long as you keep your insurance in force. So if you live close to a flood zone but outside it you might want to think about buying one of the inexpensive policies now. If you end up in a flood zone and your bank requires the coverage, you will be locked into the lower rate. If you remain outside of flood zone under the new maps, you could cancel the policy after a year if you wish. (FEMA will not allow a policy to be canceled in the middle of the year unless you sell your home)

My problem is that in the article there is a quote from County Executive Steve Levy saying that homeowners should be allowed to make their own decision on whether to carry flood insurance or not, as opposed to having that decision made for them by FEMA or their bank. The fact is that we hear every day from people who are only buying flood insurance because their bank is forcing them because of government regulations. They feel that the fact that they've never seen a flood in their home means they will never be flooded. Unfortunately this is not the case and we only need to look at the ongoing problems resulting from hurricane Katrina to see that.

In addition, the idea coming from the County Executive that people should be able to choose which government programs and mandates they participate in and which they choose not to is absurd. If that were the case most people on the South Shore would probably still have cesspools in their backyards except that the government mandated participation in the Southwest Sewer District in order to protect our drinking water in the long run. The same logic is behind a part of our sales tax collections which go to fund open space purchases.

And how about school taxes? I have no children in school anymore. Can I opt out of school taxes because I no longer see the direct benefit to me? I found this to be a very irresponsible statement by the County Executive and contrary to the whole reason for the existence of virtually every government program. It's fine to be a fiscal conservative with the general opinion that government should take the least role possible in people's day-to-day lives. However say that these decisions should all be left to the individual homeowner and rely on them to make the best decision for everybody for the long-term simply does not work and is not valid.