By ERIK SCHELZIG
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - For many Tennessee property owners in flood-prone areas, a move by Congress to soften steep increases to subsidized insurance policies may come as little comfort.
A new law signed by President Barack Obama last week dials back some of most dramatic hikes in the price of national flood insurance, but Federal Emergency Management Agency statistics reviewed by The Associated Press show that 7,780 flood insurance policies in Tennessee still face soaring insurance rates.
About 5,550 policies covering mostly primary residences could be raised by up to 18 percent per year, though FEMA hasn't said how high the rate increases will be. Another 2,300 businesses and vacation homes in Tennessee will see their rates go up 25 percent per year.
Property owners in Nashville, where residents are still recovering from more than $2 billion in damage caused by the May 2010 floods, have the most subsidized policies in the state that could be affected by the law.
At the beginning of last year, Davidson County, which is mostly made up by the city of Nashville, had 1,687 policies that fall under the rate hikes. That's nearly double the next highest statewide total of subsidized polices in Hamilton County. Rounding out the state's top five are Shelby, Williamson and Carter counties.
Democratic state Rep. Bo Mitchell's district includes Bellevue neighborhood of Nashville, one of the areas hardest hit by the 2010 floods He said the prospect of heavy rate increases is hard to swallow for homeowners still on the path to recovery.
"You've already got people who have the mortgage on their home, the second mortgage to rebuild their home," Mitchell said. "And then coupling that with the increase to their escrow from the flood insurance is going to be even more crippling to them."
"You're already not seeing that new car in the driveway. You're not seeing them take elaborate family vacations anymore," he said. "You're adding insult to injury."
As many as 1.1 million policyholders are subsidized through the National Flood Insurance Program, which is $24 billion in debt because of a series of catastrophic storms.
The new law rolls back parts of the 2012 overhaul of the flood insurance program after vocal complaints about skyrocketing premiums based on the real risk of flooding, rather than the artificially low rates of the past.
Yet the new measure still allows homeowners receiving subsidies to get hit with rate increases of up to 18 percent each year until the program is collecting enough revenue to cover its shortfall. Owners of businesses and second homes will see their rates rise no less than 25 percent each year until their premiums reach rates that match what building elevation surveys indicate is the true risk of flooding.
Nashville policyholders have received $146 million in insurance payments since joining the federally subsidized program, while overall flood insurance premiums total $5 million per year.
Similarly, policyholders in neighboring Cheatham County has received $14.2 million in payouts on annual premiums of $186,000. In the city of Millington outside Memphis program payouts have totaled $3.4 million on annual premiums of $96,000.
On the other end of the spectrum are cities like Germantown, Soddy-Daisy and Sevierville that pay more in flood insurance premiums each year than their policyholders have received through claims over the history of the program.