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FEMA's flood insurance program is about to undergo major changes

FEMA flood insurance
Posted at 2:11 PM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 14:11:54-04

There is something about living alongside the ocean in Marshfield, Massachusetts that brings Meaghan Desmond peace.

Desmond grew up by the water, and now, she owns a home along the coast. But living in a place like this also comes with a bit of uncertainty.

“Basically, three days after a storm, the tides are high, and you can feel it vibrating. It’s formidable,” she said.

After each winter storm, Desmond sees more and more of the coastline here disappear. It's part of the reason she pays nearly $6,000 a year in flood insurance.

“There’s a huge risk and the deductible is high, but what’s it going to cost if a wave takes my house out?” Desmond said.

A staggering 13 million Americans live in flood-prone areas. Be it along the coast or just near a creek, the risk is often the same.

“Water is very powerful. Water is very heavy,” said Shannon Hulst, a floodplain specialist.

Hulst has studied floodplains over the years and says Americans are being hit with more major flooding events.

“With sea-level rise, we are starting to see more flooding,” she said.

Most people who live in flood-prone areas are required to have flood insurance, funded by FEMA.

But the program, which has been around since the 1960s, is about to undergo a major change with a plan called Risk Rating 2.0.

“They’re basically coming up to speed with the private market on how risk is determined,” Hulst described.

Under the new plan, the closer you live to the source of flooding, the higher your rates are going to be.

“When you’re told this is your true flood risk, it’s based on the best data and the most accurate data,” Hulst said.

By some estimates, 3.8 million homeowners will have to pay more for flood insurance under the new rules.

Florida, Texas, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York will see the highest increases.

There are two silver linings though. With Risk Rating 2.0, rates can't increase by more than 18 percent, and nearly 1.2 million Americans will see their flood insurance rates decrease.

“The good news is that the folks who are further back from the source of the flooding, they are likely to see their rates either stay the same or even drop,” Hulst said.

As for homeowners like Meaghan Desmond, they'll keep paying whatever insurance rates they have to in order to keep calling places on the coast home.