Report of possible tornado in Hobe Sound; no injuries

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January 10  |  Florida, News, Tornado  |   Danielle Szeliga

By Keona Gardner

Dottie Mancusi was sitting at her kitchen table reading the Bible on her iPad on Thursday evening when, “All of a sudden I heard a big bang and the whole house shook,” she said.

“I thought it was an earthquake.”

It wasn’t tremors from below but wind from above: Martin County Fire Rescue officials say it was an unconfirmed tornado that damaged the home and about 30 others. No injuries were reported.

Mancusi said after the rumbling she continued reading the Bible on her iPad, thinking it was just a hard rain. She learned the extent of the damage when her neighbors knocked on her door to make sure she was unharmed. Then she saw her metal roof, peeled back like a sardine can with water coming in the Florida room of the home.

She said nothing else was damaged.

Mancusi said she attributes her safety to God.

“He takes care of me,” she said.

According to Martin County Fire Rescue Division Chief Jon Belding, about 6:20 p.m. in the 8500 block of Southeast Lyons Road, crews responded to reports of a possible tornado.

There was no request for medical or Red Cross assistance.

“It was definitely some type of wind event,” Belding said.

There are reports of downed power lines and blown transformers in the area, Belding said.

According to a Martin County Fire Rescue news release, Fire Rescue personnel went door to door to over 108 homes to assess damage and check for injuries.

The Martin County Fire Rescue Emergency Management Agency will be working with the National Weather Service, Melbourne on Friday to determine the cause and type of wind event that occurred, the news release said.

CBO: Delaying Flood Rate Increases Would Add $2.1 Billion to NFIP Debt

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January 10  |  Flood, National Flood Insurance Program, News  |   Danielle Szeliga

Legislation designed to delay rate increases for some National Flood Insurance Program policyholders would add $2.1 billion to the program’s debt over the next 10 years, according to a cost estimate released by the Congressional Budget Office.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which may be voted on by the full Senate this week, would push back rate increases for primary homeowners until six months after the Federal Emergency Management Agency completes an affordability study. The affordability study was required to be conducted by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act of 2012 and was supposed to be finished by April 2013. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has said the study has been delayed by a lack of resources.

SB 1846, which was authored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would allow FEMA to use additional resources to complete the affordability study (Best’s News Service, Jan. 8, 2014).

But the CBO said delaying the rate increases would reduce net income to the NFIP by about $2.1 billion by 2024.

“Under current law, CBO expects that, on average expenditures, of the program will exceed collections over the next 10 years,” the CBO said. “Reducing net income would increase those shortfalls, resulting in additional borrowing by the program.”

Menendez’s bill came after many NFIP policyholders said their rates were set to increase dramatically, starting this month. Menendez said in a Jan. 7 statement that all other aspects of the Biggert-Waters Act would continue to proceed. He said that means the most costly subsidies for NFIP policyholders will continue to be phased out.

It is unclear whether the CBO report will alter the chances of the Senate voting to pass the Menendez bill.

The Senate is currently locked in contentious negotiations over whether to extend unemployment insurance benefits for an additional three months, at a cost of $6 billion. Many Senate Republicans have said the cost of any extension of unemployment insurance should be offset by spending cuts.

The debate over unemployment insurance has delayed a vote on the Menendez bill, according to two of the senator’s spokesmen.

Meanwhile, Congress is working to complete a budget bill before federal funding runs out on Jan. 15.

In addition to the Menendez bill, several other pieces of legislation have been introduced in both chambers of Congress that are designed to soften the financial impact of the Biggert-Waters Act.

Those bills have so far failed to gain traction among lawmakers. The Menendez bill appears to be the most likely to pass the Senate, given that it has picked up the support of a bipartisan group of senators from coastal states.

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney has turned to the federal courts in an effort to delay some NFIP rate increases.

But this week, a U.S. Chief District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. of the federal court in Gulfport, Miss. delayed consideration of FEMA’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, which seeks to halt implementation of the NFIP rate hikes (Best’s News Service, Jan 8, 2014).

Chaney’s lawsuit is the leading edge of several coastal states’ push to delay the NFIP rate increases. Several coastal states, including Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Massachusetts are among those that have filed briefs in support of Mississippi’s effort.

By Jeff Jeffrey, Washington Bureau manager

Source: AM Best

Senate moving to ease flood rate pain

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January 10  |  Flood, News  |   Danielle Szeliga

By Lloyd Dunkelberger & Jeremy Wallace With one senator calling it Florida’s “most talked-about problem,” state lawmakers on Wednesday moved to entice private companies into a flood insurance market that has been dominated by a federal program.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee unanimously backed a bill (SB 542) that would encourage more private insurers to offer an alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program by giving the companies more freedom to set rates and shape coverage plans. “Ultimately this bill puts consumers in control,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, the bill’s sponsor. Brandes filed the legislation in response to escalating premiums in the federal program, which provides coverage for 2 million Floridians. Some 269,000 of those policies that receive subsidized rates could face substantial increases under a new federal law aimed at shoring up the NFIP. Efforts to block the NFIP rate escalation have so far been stymied in Congress, but glimmers of hope emerged in Washington on Wednesday. In the Senate, Democrats are pushing for a vote on a bill as early as next week that would delay the increases for many homeowners for up to four years. But that bill’s prospects in the House are uncertain. Both chambers must agree for the delay to be instituted. In the U.S. House, a bill to delay the rate increases for 15 months appeared to have more momentum, though it is uncertain when, or even if, that legislation would be scheduled for a vote. Brandes said regardless of what happens in Washington, Florida lawmakers need to proceed with a private-sector plan. “Hoping Congress will act is not a strategy we can rely on,” Brandes said. “We need a strong alternative.” Brandes said his bill would
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allow private insurers to provide “more choices” for flood coverage, including allowing homeowners to decide whether to opt for coverage for the full replacement cost of their homes or the mortgage amount or its actual cash value. It would also allow homeowners to limit coverage to the main house structure or opt not to cover personal property. Insurance companies would have more freedom to set rates, although they could use the standard rate review process. One option would include a “consent” agreement with the homeowner on the rate amount. Brandes said the rates set by the NFIP would act as a “ceiling” for the private insurers’ rates. But he said he believed there was an opportunity for companies to offer competitive, actuarially sound rates in cases where homeowners are now facing annual insurance costs of $30,000 or $40,000 in the federal program. Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, voted for the bill, warning that Florida could face another housing crisis unless it is addressed. “This is the most talked about problem in the state of Florida today,” Detert said. “We as a state cannot afford to go through another real estate bust when we’re just now coming out of one.” But Detert also added a note of caution, saying the legislation provides no guarantee that private insurances will jump into the market or the rates they offer will help consumers. She noted that the state has been trying for years to entice more private insurers into the property market to reduce the size of the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance with limited success. She said one of the biggest problems impacting flood insurance rates are outdated maps used in the federal program. Brandes said he is looking at an option in which the state could begin developing its own maps, although he noted it would come with a cost. Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, voted for the bill but said he wanted a prohibition in the legislation blocking Citizens from offering flood insurance properties. The bill next heads to the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee headed by Hays. Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said “the most responsible way to reduce premiums” is to expand the size of the flood insurance market. “I think we’re on the right track,” he said. “This is a good bill.” A similar bill is expected to be filed in the House by Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole. Source: Herald-Tribune

President and CEO of Woodlands Financial Runs for Texas State Senate

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January 9  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

Richard “Gordy” Bunch, the president and chief executive officer of The Woodlands Financial Group, a privately held insurance agency, has announced his intent to run for a seat in the Texas Senate. Bunch, a Republican, is one of several candidates vying to represent Texas’s District 4, which comprises Chambers, Harris, Galveston, Jefferson and Montgomery counties. A special election will be held in May 10 to fill the seat left vacant after Sen. Tommy Williams resigned to take a job as vice chancellor at Texas A&M University. “I am offering myself as a conservative candidate who has experience in helping to create thousands of jobs, many of which are in our area, and who has manned the front lines to protect our nation, our borders, and sovereign soil,” Bunch said in a statement. Bunch is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. Bunch has seeded his campaign with a personal investment of $250,000. He has also launched a campaign website, Gordy, his

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wife Michelle, and their three boys live in The Woodlands Township near Houston. He is the founder, president and CEO of The Woodlands Financial Group, one of the largest privately held independent insurance agencies in Texas. Last year, Texas became the latest state to to become a captive domicile (Best’s News Service, Jan. 7, 2013). The state has since issued a rule to implement the law that recently completed a public comment period, with minimal changes expected. The new law was sought by companies who were domiciled outside the state and looking to relocate into Texas. While application fees for captives will cost 1,500 through 2018 and a 0.5% premium tax is placed on all business written, the commissioner can waive the fees and taxes for a two-year period for companies domiciled outside the state but looking to relocate. By Jeff Jeffrey, Washington Bureau manager Source: AM Best

US Senate Set to Vote on Bill to Delay NFIP Rate Hikes

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January 9  |  Flood, National Flood Insurance Program, News  |   Danielle Szeliga

The U.S. Senate could hold a vote as early as Jan. 8 on a bipartisan bill that would delay rate increases for some National Flood Insurance Program policyholders.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which was introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would push back rate increases for primary homeowners until the Federal Emergency Management Agency completes an affordability study the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act of 2012 required it to finish by April 2013. The bill would allow FEMA to use additional resources to complete the affordability study.

Menendez said in a Jan. 7 statement that all other aspects of the Biggert-Waters Act would continue to proceed. He said that means the most costly subsidies for NFIP policyholders will continue to be phased out.

“We’ve tried to reach a delicate balance with this bill that recognizes the need to improve solvency and phase out certain subsidies, but tries to do so without discouraging program participation and thus undermining solvency and fiscal responsibility,” Menendez said.

Steven Sandberg, a spokesman for Menendez, said the senator is pushing for a full floor vote Jan. 8. However, “things remain fluid,” he said.

Congress is currently considering legislation that would extend unemployment insurance for three months, a contentious proposal that threatens to delay progress on the Menendez bill.

Menendez’s bill came after many NFIP policyholders said their rates were set to increase dramatically, starting this month. A number of bills have been introduced in both chambers of Congress that are designed to soften the financial impact of the Biggert-Waters Act.

However, many of those bills have failed to gain traction among lawmakers.

In the Senate last month, SB 1610 died on the floor after the bill’s supporters failed to get a voice vote that would have adopted the bill by unanimous consent. The bill would have delayed rate increases included in the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act indefinitely.

A similar Republican-backed bill in the House failed to gain enough traction among Democrats to reach the two-thirds vote required to expedite the bill.

Other proposed delays to the NFIP rate increases have also failed to make progress in the House (Best’s News Service, Dec. 18, 2013).

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney has turned to the federal courts in an effort to delay some NFIP rate increases.

But this week, a U.S. Chief District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. of the federal court in Gulfport, Miss. delayed consideration of FEMA’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, which seeks to halt implementation of the NFIP rate hikes.

Chaney’s lawsuit is the leading edge of several coastal states’ push to delay the NFIP rate increases. Several coastal states, including Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Massachusetts are among those that have filed briefs in support of Mississippi’s legal effort.

By Jeff Jeffrey, Washington Bureau

Source: AM Best

Flood-insurance alert

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January 9  |  Flood, Florida, News  |   Danielle Szeliga

Congress should try again to delay premium increases


Florida’s congressional delegation meets tomorrow, in a closed-door session, to discuss the rising concerns about increases in National Flood Insurance Program premiums.

Let’s hope our members of Congress emerge from the meeting with a solid strategy for stemming the tide of dramatic hikes in some premiums. After all, although the insurance program benefits millions of Americans from coast to coast, the stability of its premium rates are vital to Floridians and the state’s economy.

The Biggert-Waters Flood Reform Act of 2012 has a well-intended aim — to reduce a $24 billion deficit in the federal program. The act calls for premiums for residential property to rise nationwide to market rates; in other words, the law seeks to reduce the subsidization of policies.

Yearly premiums for current homeowners would rise over the next five years, but new buyers of those homes would have to pay market rates immediately.

Economic impacts

While flood insurance rates in some cases could triple or quadruple for some older, low-lying properties, the number of Florida homes affected will be relatively small in the near term. Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan research institute, estimates that premiums will rise for 13 percent of Florida’s subsidized policyholders.

Yet the effects of the act are already being felt. As Zac Anderson reported Sunday in the Herald-Tribune, some real estate professionals — including surveyors, who determine the elevations of properties for insurance purposes — say transactions have already been affected by concerns over unaffordable premiums. At the least, there appears to be a growing sense of uncertainty over the impacts of premium increases.

The economic effects of the Biggert-Waters bill were supposed to be assessed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in an “affordability study.” Completion of the study was not mandated before the first round of rate hikes went into effect. But a substantial group of representatives and senators, especially those from coastal states, contend they wanted the study completed before premiums escalated.

In light of the size of the increases and the widespread utilization of federal flood insurance — most mortgage companies require that borrowers obtain the coverage — it makes abundant sense for Congress to know the real-world impacts of the act.

Two types of relief

Florida’s members of Congress are seeking temporary relief in two ways. In the Senate, Democrat Bill Nelson and others support legislation that would delay the rate hikes for four years and require FEMA to complete the study before rate hikes are approved. In the House, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, whose district includes Manatee and Sarasota counties, is co-sponsoring a bill that calls for delaying rate hikes for the owners of primary households that were placed in a greater risk category by new flood maps. (Those changes could affect 78,812 of the 109,273 policyholders in Buchanan’s 16th congressional district.)

Although Florida has the most policyholders, states up and down all coastlines have a lot at stake; so do inland states, such as Colorado and New Mexico, which have received 10 times more in claims payments than premiums paid, according to a study by Florida Taxwatch. What’s more, subsidized rates account for 13 percent of policyholders in Florida, compared with a national rate of 20 percent.

In short, this is not just a Florida problem.

During the past two decades, FEMA and state and local governments have improved the accuracy of their maps and provided incentives for owners to make their homes less susceptible to flooding. Those efforts should continue.

But the nationwide reliance on federal flood insurance is too great for implementation of sweeping changes without consideration of their economic impacts. Delay the premium increases until Congress has the data needed to make an informed decision.

Source: Herald-Tribune

Senate Schedules Key Vote on Flood Insurance Rate Delay for Today

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January 8  |  Flood, News  |   Danielle Szeliga

By Andrew G. Simpson

The U.S. Senate is expected to take a key vote Wednesday on a bill that would delay some of the flood insurance rate hikes triggered by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.

The procedural vote will determine whether the Senate will proceed with debate on the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (S.1846). Sixty votes are required to move the measure to the floor for a “yes-no” vote.

The Senate bill would postpone for four years some of the rate hikes that are beginning to hit primary residences. It would also delay increases for properties sold after July 6, 2012, the start date of the Biggert-Waters act.

The Biggert-Waters act is an attempt to make flood insurance pricing more cost-based by eliminating premium subsidies that some property owners have enjoyed for decades.

The Senate bill would delay premium increases for four years, or six months after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) proposes policy changes and regulations to address affordability issues, which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates would occur during calendar year 2018.

The Senate bill would not block rate increases for most business properties, secondary homes or repeat flood properties. Rates on those properties are scheduled to increase by 25 percent per year until they reach full cost.

The CBO estimates that the change in premium rates proposed by S. 1846 would reduce net income to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by about $2.1 billion over the 2014-2024 period. The NFIP is already $24 billion in debt, which FEMA Director Craig Fugate reminded Congress when urging members of the House Financial Services Committee not to delay the increases.

CBO estimates that the NFIP would borrow and spend an additional $900 million over the 2014-2018 period because of this legislation. However, because total borrowing is limited under current law, additional amounts borrowed over the next five years would be offset by less borrowing in later years, resulting in no net effect through 2024, according to CBO.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and has 19 Democratic and 8 Republican co-sponsors.

A group of senators from coastal states held a press conference yesterday to rally support for the bill.

The House has a similar but limited proposal that would delay rate increases for only six months. Sponsored by Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y, this bill (HR 3370) has 117 Democratic and 51 Republican co-sponsors but faces opposition from key Republicans including Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee that has jurisdiction over flood insurance.

Source: Insurance Journal

Catastrophes caused $31B in insured losses in 2013: Munich Re

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January 8  |  News  |   Danielle Szeliga

Natural catastrophes caused global insured losses of about $31 billion in 2013, according to an analysis Munich Reinsurance Co. released on Tuesday.

That was considerably below the 2003-2012 10-year average of approximately $56 billion, according to Munich Re. The reinsurer noted, however, that 2013’s number of natural catastrophes exceeded that of the 10-year average — 880 in 2013 compared with an average of 790.

Insured natural catastrophe damage in the United States amounted to about $12.8 billion, less than half of the 10-year $29.4 billion average. Munich Re pointed out that despite initial predictions of above-average Atlantic hurricane activity, the 2013 season was unusually quiet. In fact the number of hurricanes was the lowest since 1982, according to the analysis. But insured losses from U.S. thunderstorms reached about $10 billion despite the lowest observed tornado count in a decade, Munich Re said.

The most expensive event for the insurance industry in 2013 was a squall line with hailstorms that hit some regions in northern and southwestern Germany, causing about $3.7 billion in insured losses, Munich Re said.

The most severe catastrophe in human terms was caused by Supertyphoon Haiyan, which hit the southern Philippines on Nov. 7 and killed more than 6,000 people, although insured losses are expected to be relatively low because of low insurance penetration, according to Munich Re.

Source: Business Insurance

Guest Opinion: 10-step plan could end property insurance blues

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January 7  |  Florida, News  |   Danielle Szeliga

By J. Robert McClure

State officials know that getting blamed for property insurance problems ranks right up there with tax hikes on the list of politically toxic issues. So it’s tempting for lawmakers and regulators to avoid making the tougher reforms in an insurance marketplace that, ironically, also carries the risk of a huge tax hike.

Adding to this political inertia is the fact that Florida has gone through eight straight hurricane seasons without a major storm. That has significantly lessened the sense of urgency felt in the wake of eight hurricanes in 2004-05 that devastated Florida with $30 billion in insured damages.

Florida’s property insurance marketplace became a mess on a scale not seen since the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The state-run Citizens Property Insurance – ostensibly Florida’s “insurer of last resort” – became the largest property insurer, placing a Cat 5 financial risk on the backs of all Floridians.

Here’s the problem: If a big storm struck a major urban area – or if a series of storms crisscrossed the state – Citizens and the state’s catastrophe fund (Cat Fund) on which Citizens relies wouldn’t have enough money to pay all the claims.

To get the money, Florida – its tax base and credit rating damaged because of widespread property damage – would need to go hat-in-hand to Wall Street and borrow record amounts of money.

State law would require a tax on every property and auto insurance policy. In such a scenario, elected officials would refuse to impose the fiscally prudent rate hikes necessary and the state-sponsored insurance hole would be dug even deeper.

Granted, some progress has been made. Citizens is being downsized by transferring policies to the private sector. And the Cat Fund is gradually being right-sized. Yet enormous fiscal and political risks persist, and elected officials need to act even faster.

Coming right on cue, there is a new study from The James Madison Institute that says it all in its title: “Ten Reforms to Fix Florida’s Property Insurance Marketplace – Without Raising Rates.”


Top 3 Homeowners Insurers in Texas Seek Rate Hikes for 2014

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January 7  |  News, Texas  |   Danielle Szeliga

The top three homeowners insurers in Texas are seeking to raise rates—one by up to 15%—in 2014, the Dallas Morning News reports, but the state’s public insurance counselor tells PC360 she will challenge the requests. According to the Dallas Morning News story, written by Terrence Stutz, Farmers, State Farm and Allstate have submitted rate hike requests of 14.9%, 9.8%, and 6.5% respectively to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), citing reasons from increasing damages from natural catastrophes in recent years to high business costs. A State Farm spokeswomen says in the article that the company spends $1.11 for every premium dollar it collects for claims processing and other business expenses. Texas Public Insurance Counselor Deeia Beck, though, tells PC360 she is challenging all three rate increases, saying the estimates of current and future cost increases are exaggerated. “Non-modeled catastrophe provisions include trend assumptions

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that appear largely arbitrary and unsupported,” Beck wrote to Farmers Insurance Exchange in a statement she shared with PC360, in which she also wrote that “the premium and loss trend selections used in the filing are unreasonable and significantly inflate the rate indication.” She shared similar concerns regarding State Farm Lloyds and Allstate filings. Source: Property Casualty 360

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