Louisiana Gives Tax Free Weekend for Hurricane Supplies May 29-30


With the start of hurricane season just around the corner, the state of Louisiana wants to help its citizens be prepared.

On May 29th and 30th, residents of Louisiana can get a tax break when buying emergency supplies, including:

  • self-powered light sources like flashlights and candles
  • portable self-powered radios
  • two-way radios and weather-band radios
  • tarpaulins or other similar flexible waterproof sheeting
  • ground anchor systems / tie-down kits
  • fuel tanks (gas or diesel)
  • cell phone batteries and chargers
  • portable generators
  • carbon monoxide detectors

The tax holiday makes the 4% state sales tax exempt on the first $1,500 of the cost of such items, though local sales taxes still apply.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1.

Early Estimate of Nashville Flood Damage: $1.5 Billion


An early estimate of the flood damages to Nashville, TN came in on Friday at $1.5 billion, but Mayor Karl Dean believes that number will climb.

According to Dean, the posted estimate includes only commercial and industrial properties and about 2,000 residences, but doesn’t include damages to public roads or bridges, or the contents in any of the buildings that were damaged. He said officials have identified 9.284 parcels with flood damage, roughly two thousand of which are residential properties.

So far, the assessment includes about 83 percent of the county. Some areas are still not accessible.

The city of Nashville has set up a website through which property owners can report damage, but it should be noted that damage reporting is the site’s sole purpose. It is not connected in any way with relief efforts or emergency services.

Said the mayor, “The assessment is continuing, and we ask property owners to report their damage so we can get an accurate figure.”

Jobless Benefits & Flood Insurance Extended…Again.


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.”

London Science Museum Takes Neutral Position on Global Warming


Homeowners in New England are looking at filing flood insurance claims, while residents of the Midwest have had one of the worst winters in years, and even Texas got more than a foot of the frosty white stuff this year. In the midst of all this, the London Science Museum, with sponsorship from Royal Dutch Shell has opened a new climate gallery which is adopting a more neutral position on global warming.

Set to open in November, the $6 million exhibit will provide “up-to-date, accurate” information on the science of global climate change, and is intended to “satisfy the interests and needs of those who accept that human-induced climate change is real, those who are unsure, and those who do not,” said a museum representative in a statement to the press.

According to report by Reuters, the museum’s director, Professor Chris Rapley told the press, “The scientific community has, with some exceptions, concluded that climate change is real, largely driven by humans and requires a response. Our objective is to minimize the shrill tone and emotion that bedevils discussion of this subject.”

The previous exhibit was called “Prove It! All the evidence you need to believe in climate change,” which closed last month. That exhibit featured a poll which shoed that many of its visitors did not believe the scientific evidence behind human-caused climate change. Late last year, after email messages from a British university were released by hackers and latched onto by skeptics who felt they showed that global warming was largely exaggerated, the scientific data was called into question. When an erroneous statement about the Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035 was released in January, shortcomings of the U.N.’s panel of climate scientists were made public. The result was a call for reform from the panel, and the creation of the new Climate Science Gallery.

Other sponsors of the new gallery are Germany’s Siemens, the Garfield Weston Foundation and Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Other news this week from the London Science Museum is its restated commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

Congress Adjourns Without Extending Flood Insurance


Yesterday, we blogged that if Congress didn’t vote on it today, the federal flood insurance program would lapse (again) as would some unemployment benefits. The Insurance Journal is reporting that Congress could not come to agreement on the bill, and adjourned without passing it.

Congress will be in recess until April 12th.

As a result of the bill not passing, the National Flood Insurance Progam will lapse on Sunday, March 28th at midnight, and from that point until Congress returns to vote in mid-April, insurance agents will be unable to sell new or renewal flood insurance policies, which are required by lenders to close loans on properties lying in certain flood hazard zones.

The Senate’s vote on the bill was blocked by Senator Tom Coburn (R – OK) who argued that voting to extend jobless benefits (part of the same bill) would add to the deficit. Senate Democrats countered with the assertion that this was emergency spending.

This marks the second lapse of the NFIP this year, but last month’s lapse was only a few days; this one will be roughly two weeks, and that’s assuming there is a vote on the day Congress reassembles. If that happens, Congress can reinstate the program retroactively.

It is important to remember that while new policies and renewals cannot be processed, currently insured homeowners remain covered, and claims payments will not be affected.

Flood Insurance Could Lapse…Again


According to a post in today’s Insurance Journal, real estate agents and insurance agents are once again being advised to warn clients about a possible interruption of the federal flood insurance program in three days – an interruption that could last longer than last month’s lapse. The Senate is expected to vote tonight or tomorrow to extend the program, but if the vote doesn’t happen, the program could be down for weeks while Congress is in recess.

Currently, the NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) is schedule to expire at midnight on March 28. While the House of Representatives has agreed to extend the program through the end of April, the Senate has been trying to get it extended through the end of 2010. However, if the Senate, which has been largely preoccupied with healthcare reform, does not adopt the House measure before Sunday night, the program will expire.

Just last month, the program went down to the wire in a similar fashion, when a bill extending COBRA and unemployment benefits as well was delayed on the floor by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) who had concerns about funding for job insurance. Without a vote, the NFIP expired on February 28th for a few days, until the extension through March 28th was finally passed and signed into law by President Obama on March 2nd.

There is a valid fear that politics could once again delay a vote to extend the program. Matt Brady, spokespan for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies told the press, “As we’ve seen, these short term extensions create situations where the NFIP is allowed to lapse because of unrelated political or legislative issues. Hopefully, the program will be extended again and lawmakers will use that time to pass legislation reforming the program and extending it for a longer term.” He continued, “We still believe the extension will pass, but given recent history I think it’s always a good idea for agents and brokers to be prepared for a hiatus.”

John Prible, vice president of the Big “I” (Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers) also shared concerns with the press, bringing up the fact that once again the NFIP extension is tied to a bill on unemployment benefits and COBRA. He said that the Senate staffers he’s spoken with are “optimistic” that a vote will happen by the end of Friday. Prible is more concerned over the fact that if a vote does not happen before the program expires, the Congressional recess could keep NFIP on hold for two weeks. Of that concept, he said, “That’s scary.”

The possible hiatus could not happen at a worse time of year. FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Administraztion) which administers the national flood insurance program is trying to get more homeowners to purchase flood insurance, and last week was actually National Flood Insurance Awareness Week. FEMA cites information provided by the National Weather Service, which says that over a third of the United States is in danger of flooding at this time of year.

Insurance agent and company lobbyists have been pressing for a multi-year renewal of NFIP, along with broader reforms to the program, for the better part of a decade.

An Alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program?


Most of us have heard of NFIP – the National Flood Insurance Program – even if we don’t own homes that are situated in flood zones. Now, a company called CatCoverage is offering an online alternative to national flood insurance.

Known as NCIP – the Natural Catastrophe Insurance Program – this new product is available to agents and brokers as well as direct to consumers.

It’s a web-based program that offers, “primary layer insurance for the perils of landslides, floods, and earthquakes.” The policies are being underwritten by Lloyds, which has a reputation of being one of the best in the business. It is administered by Salt Lake City, UT – based Poulton Associates, Inc., which also created the program. Poulton’s director of wholesale marketing, Marissa Halverson, says that many consumers and insurance professionals still think the NFIP is the only source of flood insurance.

CatCoverage.com allows both business and residential property owners to purchase flood, earthquake, and landslide coverage under one insurance policy. In addition, customers can choose coverage options that NFIP doesn’t offer, such as additional living expenses for homeowners, loss of income coverage for businessess, and other expenses.

Estimates show that roughly 83% of Americans do not have any kind of flood or catastrophe insurance, and about a third of them erroneously believe that standard homeowners insurance covers flooding and other such damage. (It does not.)

So far, the web-based CatCoverage is available in 27 states.