At the Yardley Inn this week, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro signed a new House bill to assemble a task force to recommend policies to make flood insurance more affordable for Pennsylvanians in the wake of devastating summer flash flood damages.
Shapiro recited the names of the seven victims of the July flash floods during the ceremony — Enzo Depiero, Linda Depiero, Yuko Love, Susan Barnhart, Conrad Sheils, Matilda Sheils and Katie Seley.
“We remember them, this community remembers them…they are part of the reason why we are back here today,” the governor said. “We’re here today to act on their behalf, may their memories continue to be a blessing to all.”
Shapiro signed House Bill 735 which establishes the Flood Insurance Premium Assistance Task Force Monday morning. The task force will recommend policies for more affordable flood insurance for Pennsylvanians who have been experiencing more-frequent storms with rising temperatures.
Pennsylvania Insurance Department Commissioner Michael Humphreys, who will lead the task force, said, “Just about 1 percent of houses — that’s roughly 51,000 houses — are currently insured against flooding,” in the state.
That, he said, is mostly because residents think they’re already covered through their homeowners insurance policies.
Humphreys said he and his team heard “devastating stories” after going out to communities to offer assistance during the aftermaths of natural disasters, similar to ones that many Eastern Pennsylvania neighborhoods faced in July’s flash floods.
“This is a long time coming, the first step in a process,” said state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-10, who added the bill had been tried in previous sessions.
Santarsiero said the federal Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 rolled back federal subsidies for flood insurance. At the same time, PEMA expanded the flood map. Home that were not in flood zones before were now in flood zones.
In 2014, the senator and late Bucks County Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick’s office began working with local residents, Realtors and stakeholders to put legislation together to help address these problems. Through those discussions came the idea of a task force.
“If we did nothing, what ultimately would happen is, many areas just as the flats here in Yardley and others in Lower Makefield, would start to become ghost towns because residents would not be able to afford flood insurance,” Santarsiero said. “But they wouldn’t be able to stay in their homes either, and ultimately no one would be there to buy their homes because of the high costs of living there.”
Santarsiero thanked his colleague Rep. Perry Warren, D-31, who took the bill up again after Sen. Santarsiero left the House. Warren reintroduced the bill in 2017. It passed the House in 2019 but languished in the Senate.
This year it was the first bill passed by the House Insurance Committee.
“People need to realize as beautiful as the river is, as beautiful as Newtown Creek is, as beautiful as our communities are, the waters are a potential hazard and it really came home on July 16 this summer,” Warren said.
Shapiro noted that, through PEMA, the commonwealth was able to secure the U.S. Small Business Administration disaster declaration after the floods. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. and U.S. Sen. John Fetterman worked together to make loans available for businesses and homeowners to build and repair.
“No Pennsylvanian should be forced to fight their insurance company while sorting through the wreckage of their family home or their small business,” Shapiro said. “These storms cause real damage to Pennsylvanians’ lives and livelihood. So, as temperatures rise, we’ll continue to see more storms happen across Pennsylvania. We’re gonna have to be better prepared. We’re gonna have to shore up our infrastructure in order to protect people’s livelihoods.”
The task force will get started later this month with a public comment period to engage all stakeholders for broad feedback, and then meet over the next six months to research, analyze, draft and present its recommendations.
Flood insurance is available through the National Flood Insurance Market and the growing private insurance market. When severe weather events occur the insurance department provides information and guidelines to begin the disaster recovery process — information that can also be found at www.insurance.pa.gov.
Pennsylvanians can also call the consumer assistance line at 1-877-881-6388 with any insurance concerns or problems.
Flood insurance policies are not active immediately and have a typical 30-day waiting period.