Flood insurance at risk in shutdown

(Bloomberg) --The Federal Emergency Management Agency is exploring how to continue issuing new flood insurance policies after earlier saying that it would halt the practice during the partial government shutdown, leading to a backlash from lawmakers and realtors.

The agency is working with companies that sell policies under the National Flood Insurance Program to “determine what options exist to enable the NFIP to allow the sale and renewal of flood insurance policies,” the agency said in a statement posted to its website late Thursday.

“Recognizing that many Americans rely on the NFIP to protect their homes and businesses from damage caused by flooding, FEMA is currently reviewing all legal authorities with the Administration that would allow the NFIP to continue operations without interruption, so as to hopefully minimize impacts to policyholders and insurance industry partners during this funding lapse,” FEMA said in the statement.

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A resident walks through a flooded street in Bonita Springs, Florida, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Hurricane Irma smashed into Southern Florida as a Category 4 storm, driving a wall of water and violent winds ashore and marking the first time since 1964 the U.S. was hit by back-to-back major hurricanes. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

FEMA had earlier advised insurance companies that offer federal flood insurance policies to suspend sales and renewals under the program. Sale and renewal fees paid to those companies may be prohibited during a lapse in appropriations for the program, it said.

Separately, U.S. banking regulators said lenders may continue to write mortgages while the program is idled. In a statement Friday, regulators including the Federal Reserve re-iterated existing guidance from 2010 saying lenders may continue to make loans that typically require borrowers to obtain flood insurance if FEMA’s program is unavailable.

FEMA’s earlier advisory prompted an outcry from lawmakers who last week passed an extension of the flood insurance program through the end of May.

Critics also warned that making new policies unavailable risked damaging the housing market. The National Association of Realtors estimated that as many as 40,000 home closings could be disrupted for each month new flood insurance policies can’t be issued.