St. Petersburg, Florida - Machines at Wright Flood spit out policy after policy and right now, questions about insurance flood into this St. Pete company just about as fast.
Wright Flood issues nearly 700,000 policies across the U.S., but when it comes to homeowners impacted by the new big rate increases, Pinellas County is ground zero.
"It has been challenging," Wright COO Patty Templeton-Jones told 10 News. "These rules and these changes are by far the largest we've ever seen."
After Hurricane Katrina, Congress saw the need to shore up the finances of FEMA's flood program, but Templeton-Jones said there have been unintended consequences.
The higher rates could force some people out of their homesand because new homeowners bear the brunt of the hikes, realtors fear it will harm a just recovering market.
"This is the way it was written, this is the way FEMA had to interpret it, but is this the best way to go forward for the general public?" questioned Templeton-Jones, and she said the crisis is prompting discussions about change in Washington.
The reforms do away with subsidized rates. For established homeowners, rates go up gradually, but new home buyers must pay the full increase right away. And anyone who lets their policy lapse will also pay the full price, so Templeton-Jones urges consumers to make sure they, or their mortgage company, pays on time.
And there's no doubt that all of the changes have generated a lot of confusion. The phones in Wright's customer service center are ringing like never before. In a typical month representatives used to field 25,000 calls- now they're handling 40,000.
Lawmakers in Washington, especially Florida and Louisiana's delegation, are working to delay the rate hikes and soften the blow to consumers, but unlike the work of Wright's printing machines, that action may not come so quickly.
Wright Flood has a tutorial about the flood insurance reforms on its website. To view it click here.
Wondering if you're in a high risk flood zone? Look up your area on one of the maps provided by Bay Area counties:
- Single familyHillsborough homes in FEMA High Risk Flood Zones
- Single Family Pinellas Homes in FEMA High Risk Flood Zones
Once you find the map for your area, use FEMA's "Definitions of FEMA Flood Zone Designations" to better understand what it's showing.