Speaking to room full of insurers, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster official said the financially strapped National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) cannot be allowed to lapse.

“We have to ensure that the program gets reauthorized,” Edward Connor, FEMA’s acting assistant administrator for mitigation, told attendees of CSC Future Focus in Orlando, Fla.

Connor noted that while a temporary extension of program has passed in the House, the Senate has yet to pass one. The current extension of the program is set to expire on Sept 30.

Connor called for a five-year extension of the program instead of the six-month extensions that have become the norm in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He also advocated for debt forgiveness for the program, which is currently bumping up against a $20 billion threshold set by Congress.

“We have a huge debt right now,” he said, adding that the program’s debt limit should be based on the coverages in force, and not an arbitrary limit. “Based solely on written premiums, we’ll never retire that debt.”

Additionally, Connor said the agency supports the reduction of subsidized risks in the program, asking the program be allowed to focus on primary residences ahead of vacation and seasonal homes.

Connor also addressed the thorny issue of flood mapping. He noted that although Congress ordered an extensive, digital remapping of flood zones nationwide, individual legislators are not always pleased with the results.

“Communities are beginning to complain that flood zones are being extended,” he said. “They are screaming about it, and we hear it from their legislators. But, the bottom line is that the maps are coming out.”

Despite the complaints and the cloudy legislative picture, Connor said the NFIP is looking to increase penetration in flood-prone areas, including backing mandatory purchase dictates for homes and businesses near levees or dams. “We support mandatory purchase requirements for people facing those risks. It something we need to move on.”

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