Popular flood insurance program in jeopardy if Congress doesn't save it

1.7M Floridians use FEMA-backed program
Posted at 6:31 PM, Jun 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-19 18:51:49-04
After seeing storm after storm pummel Florida over the years, Joel McGuire says he will never go without flood insurance.
His experience with Hurricane Charley stands out.
"The center cone was right over Tarpon Springs. So there was no doubt I boarded and ran," says McGuire of the 2004 storm.
McGuire was among the thousands who fled the area, and watched in horror as Punta Gorda took a direct hit instead. He helped a family member rebuild afterwards, and since then, has never hesitated to buy flood insurance, even though his current home in Tarpon Springs isn't technically in a flood zone.
"I would not have moved over here this close to the water without having the availability of flood insurance," McGuire tells ABC Action News.
But now McGuire and tens of thousands of others in the Tampa Bay Area are faced with a scary thought: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), operated by FEMA, is set to expire at the end of September.
The NFIP covers nearly 5 million homes across the country, but 40% of customers, over 1.7 million, are Floridians.
What would happen if Congress chooses not to renew NFIP?
"It could shut down Florida's economy," says Joshua Butts of Cornerstone Insurance, a do-it-all independent insurance agent based in the Tampa Bay Area.
Butts says the problem is that, right now, there is just no good alternative to NFIP.
"There is no private carrier that will step up," says Butts. "And even if one carrier did try to massively expand the number of customers, the rate [would be] so astronomical that they could not afford their home."
Butts and some private insurers are starting to get into the flood insurance business, "stepping their toes in" to the volatile industry. 
Butts says, long term, private flood insurers would increase competition and drive down prices. And if local companies can offer insurance, local money spent on insurance would stay in the local economy, helping everyone. 
But for now, says Butts, flood insurers just don't have the money that FEMA has backing them to provide flood insurance to a lot of people.
And one storm could scare them all away again.
"All it takes, like we saw with Hurricane Andrew, is one catastrophic event and no one is going to want to sell flood insurance," adds Butts.
That's why the NFIP is so important, and the effects of it going away could be devastating; if the federal program ends, Florida's real estate market could freeze up, since no one would be able to close on a mortgage if the home is in a flood zone, and it would be nearly impossible to sell a home that couldn't be insured.
Democrats and Republicans who represent Florida, including Senator Marco Rubio, and U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist of Pinellas County, are pushing to get Congress to reauthorize the NFIP.