Half of Irma’s likely victims lack flood insurance, leaving Congress with potential political crisis

More than half of the homeowners in Hurricane Irma’s direct path lack flood insurance, according to a recent study by The Associated Press, highlighting a growing political crisis for lawmakers that is years in the making.

“We need to make sure that the flood insurance program is solvent now — it's already working on borrowed money. Make it solvent, make it affordable so people can buy it,” said Rep. Ted Poe, a Republican whose home state of Texas is slowly rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey last month. 

Lawmakers say ideas are circulating quickly as Florida braces for the same sort of catastrophe just endured by Texas.

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“We're actually working on a bill right now for NFIP — the National Flood Insurance Program —  and we're in conversations and lots of discussions,” Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) told The Hill. 

Congress is sending legislation to the White House that would extend the NFIP through Dec. 8.

The program is $25 billion in debt, and its borrowing authority may be exceeded by claims from Hurricane Harvey, let along Hurricane Irma.

If the NFIP goes past its borrowing limit, Congress will need to extend it if it is to cover additional claims.

NFIP was solvent for years, but began to go deep into the red after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Its fiscal situation worsened with Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Claims in general have grown against the program in the last decade as a series of catastrophic storms have pounded hurricane-prone areas.

Lawmakers have been working on a bill to revamp the program for years but have been divided over a few issues, including how much to raise premiums for people with NFIP plans. 

A 2012 bill approved by Congress raised the price of premiums for people with NFIP plans to make the costs more reflective of risks of owning homes in certain areas. That led to an outcry and a reversal by Congress two years later.

House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) predicted that if Congress doesn’t act, that burden on taxpayers could increase.