Yesterday, while most of us were madly scrambling to get our taxes filed by the midnight deadline, Congress voted to restore unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of Americans who had lost them when Republican opposition caused the bill to lapse before the Congressional recess at the end of March. The GOP contingent was opposing government spending.
After resuming operations, the House of Representatives voted 289-112 to extend both programs, and COBRA subsidies, through the end of May. The Senate had already approved the bill, and once the House had done so, it was sent to President Obama for his signature, which he provided.
Right now, with an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, more than six million Americans are relying on jobless benefits, which average about $300/week. They had expired, along with COBRA subsidies and flood insurance, for more than 200,000 people, on April 5th. The flood insurance hiatus has delayed closings of 1,400 home sales every day, in flood-prone areas, as well as cutting emergency loans to small businesses, Congressional Democrats said to the press.
The flood insurance re-authorization has been made retroactive to February 28th, and extends the NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) to May 31, 2010 – the day before the new hurricane season officially begins. It will have to be extended again, which will require a new vote – and weather watchers are concerned, as forecasters are currently predicting a summer with above-average storm activity.
The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (Big “I”) said it is concerned that Congress has only extended the program for a brief period again. Robert Rusbuldt, Big “I” president and CEO said, “It is alarming that the NFIP was allowed to expire, causing so much confusion and potentially leaving desperate homeowners and small businesses unprotected for more than two weeks. The Big ‘I’ is greatly concerned that these short expiration periods, coupled with the uncertainty of temporary extensions, will negatively impact the market.”
“This series of temporary extensions, last minute actions and service lapses during such a delicate period in our economy is of great concern to our agents, homeowners and small businesses,” added Charles Symington, Big “I” senior vice president of government affairs. “Though we are grateful that Congress extended this program, we are increasingly frustrated by these repeated one-month extensions and the periods of expiration that sometimes result from them.”
Also expressing frustration with Congress were individual Insurers. One of them, David A. Sampson, president and CEO of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) said, “We are pleased that Congress made this a priority upon returning from recess this week. But these short putts down a long fairway set a dangerous precedent that leaves homeowners vulnerable. We need a long-term, sustainable solution to the flood program. Over 5.5 million Americans rely on this vital program.”