Dispute over low-income energy assistance delays flood insurance bill

A Senate dispute over low-income energy assistance might jeopardize legislation to increase the federal flood insurance program's borrowing limit, potentially preventing thousands of homeowners from being reimbursed for claims related to Hurricane Katrina.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has placed a hold on a bill to increase the borrowing limit from $18.5 billion to $20.8 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to operate the flood program, according to a Senate aide and lobbyists. The House passed the measure by voice vote Wednesday.

Snowe does not oppose the federal flood bill, but has taken the action to spur movement on Senate legislation that would allocate an additional $1 billion in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in fiscal 2006. Appropriators had provided $2.2 billion for the program.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., in December promised Snowe and Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, that he would bring up the LIHEAP measure early this year.

But Frist has been stymied in bringing the bill to the floor because Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has placed a hold on the bill. Coburn's concerns about the LIHEAP bill are also shared by other fiscal conservatives, according to aides. Democrats support the measure.

Coburn is calling for the additional $1 billion for LIHEAP to come from offsetting budget cuts, his spokesman said. "The president's budget has a clear definition of what an emergency is, and I don't think that qualifies for that," the spokesman said.

The recently passed budget reconciliation bill calls for $1 billion -- $250 million in guaranteed funds and $750 million in emergency funds -- to be spent on LIHEAP in fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2007. The Senate bill would modify that language to allow the entire $1 billion to be spent in fiscal 2006.

The emergency money, though, would be allocated at the discretion of the White House.

Insurance and financial services lobbyists said they are concerned that if Congress does not clear the flood insurance program by the end of the week, the federal flood program will reach its cap and stop issuing reimbursement checks to policyholders affected by Katrina.

The federal program is funded by premiums and administered by insurance companies, but a spate of natural disasters has forced the FEMA to borrow Treasury funds that exceed its budget. Late last year, lawmakers raised the borrowing limit from $3.5 billion to $18.5 billion to pay claims from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

One lobbyist said he was perplexed why the House amended the flood insurance bill Wednesday, forcing it to go back to the Senate to be cleared. The Senate passed the bill Feb. 10 with language that would provide $21.2 billion in borrowing authority, almost $500 million more than called for in the revised House version.

"This is like the U.N. without the little earpieces to translate stuff," the lobbyist complained.

Conservatives have been concerned about the flood program, which serves 4.7 million homeowners, because they contend the borrowed funds will not be repaid. Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, outlined their reservations in a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. They said they would oppose any future increases in borrowing authority for the flood program unless it was offset by cuts elsewhere.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.