Feb 19, 2014 1:39 PM by AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - After months largely silent on the issue, Gov. Bobby Jindal is urging congressional leaders to stop higher flood insurance premiums from hitting homeowners and businesses.
Jindal sent a letter late Tuesday to the Republican and Democratic leaders of both the U.S. House and Senate, asking them to support an immediate delay in the increases set in motion by a 2012 revamp of the federally run National Flood Insurance Program.
The Republican governor described the rate increases tied to the program overhaul as "irrational, not actuarial."
The "rates are not based on the true risk of our citizens, rather they are distorted by excessive fees and charges associated with an inefficient federal bureaucracy, paying for the Corps of Engineers failures and holding Louisiana's home and business owners liable for ongoing coastal land loss in our state," Jindal wrote.
The letter came more than a week after The Associated Press began asking questions about what efforts the governor has made to influence the congressional debate over flood insurance.
It was Jindal's first public and direct intervention to seek relief from the steep rate increases. Other Louisiana officials and business leaders have warned for months that soaring premiums could severely damage local economies.
About 480,000 Louisiana homes and businesses have federal flood insurance.
Until changes were enacted by Congress, the program subsidized rates for people who lived in areas without flood maps or who built their homes and then saw the maps and their risk levels changed.
Designed to cut the federal government's costs, the bipartisan program overhaul stripped the subsidy provisions and made other changes that threaten some homeowners with premium increases that would make many people unable to afford their homes or sell them.
Congress included a provision pushed by Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy in an omnibus spending bill that will put off higher premiums required by new flood maps until fall 2015 at the earliest. But the chambers are considering broader legislation to tweak the program.
A Senate-passed bill pushed by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu would amount to a four-year delay of premium increases. The House is expected to consider its own version of the legislation this month.
Backers of the 2012 rewrite of the flood insurance program - including some tea party organizations that are among Jindal's supporters - say the federal government can't afford to subsidize insurance for people who live in areas vulnerable to flooding.
Louisiana officials said flood maps drawn up by FEMA don't recognize local levees or other flood mitigation efforts that could lower a community's risk.
Jindal described efforts to cut the program's costs "a laudable goal." But he said the congressional overhaul two years ago didn't attack the right problems, instead shifting government liabilities to homeowners and distorting the insurance rates. He said only 44 percent of payments for flood insurance premiums in 2012 went to flood claims.
"Better, more fiscally responsible solutions are available," he wrote.
Jindal's letter was sent to House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.