By LEE PROCIDA
OCEAN CITY — Legislators from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have had trouble voicing concerns about flood insurance rates and storm recovery funds because of so many other troubles in Washington, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo told a crowd at the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday.
“Essentially, when you moved out of the Northeast ... the rest of the country wasn’t paying attention,” said LoBiondo, R-2nd.
The congressman said it may take a disaster in Mississippi or Florida for other members of Congress to see how the proposed revised FEMA flood maps are flawed and that increasing flood insurance costs are an undue burden on shore residents.
He even said he half-seriously jokes with legislators from Florida who were opposed to approving Sandy aid money, asking them when hurricane season begins again for their vulnerable state.
The meeting at the Flanders Hotel was partly for chamber business but the focus was on LoBiondo, who also spoke on sequestration, funding for beach replenishment projects, and bipartisanship in Washington during his comments Monday before about 90 chamber members and guests.
He started out by explaining that the federal aid package for Sandy took much longer to get passed because a higher threshold of evidence for approval had been created following Hurricane Katrina, meaning it took New Jersey and other affected states much longer to gather the necessary information on the storm’s impact.
When that funding was delayed further by inaction from Congress, and Gov. Chris Christie asked LoBiondo for an update, the congressman pressed his colleagues to bring the bill to a vote, at which point House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, shouted at him, creating a stir in political circles.
Another bill that put him at odds with his own party and some locals was the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act that LoBiondo voted for last year. The law was supposed to stabilize the deeply indebted National Flood Insurance Program, but it does so by allowing FEMA to raise flood insurance premiums by as much as 25 percent a year over the next five years.
“No one saw this coming,” LoBiondo said.
When asked if there were a way to slow the increases to smaller increments over a longer period of time, he cautioned that reopening the bill to amendment could actually make it worse because there is a determined contingent of legislators in his own party who think the whole program should be defunded.
“We have some senators who have a deep commitment against this whole situation,” he said.
He said that some of those very same officials live in areas that are sometimes subject to natural disasters, and he said they would likely change their position when affected by their own emergency.
A lot of these issues have been overshadowed in Washington because of ongoing arguments about the federal budget, debt and sequestration, he said. When talking about partisanship in Washington, he said he was unsure whether President Barack Obama’s recent outreach to Republican leaders is a genuine, long-term change of course, but he was optimistic.
“I think this is good news,” he said.
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