The grassroots group Stop FEMA Now held a series of gatherings in 15 locations across 10 states on Saturday, protesting upcoming increases in flood insurance premiums arising from the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (commonly referred to as Biggert-Waters), some of which will take effect this fall.
Stop FEMA Now began with a Facebook page updated from founder George Kasimos' garage alongside his Sandy-flooded home in Toms River, N.J. Its primary purpose was to call attention to errors Kasimos perceived in FEMA's updated flood maps, which are used to set recommended elevations for homes and flood insurance premiums. The group now has nearly 5,700 likes on the site and aspirations to become a national organization.
The roughly 70 attendees at the Toms River, N.J. event also listened to complaints about the Superstorm Sandy rebuilding process, with speakers lamenting the complicated application process, slow dispersal of funds, and lack of transparency around the state's grant programs.
"That RREM program is all smoke and mirrors," said Margaret Quinn, a clinical assistant professor at Rutgers College of Nursing whose home was damaged during the storm.
"Each and every one of us has an unbelievable story about the grant, including lost paperwork, asking questions and getting no answers, and either being denied or wait-listed," she said. "What are we waiting for?"
"What the governor promised was unprecedented transparency and thus far that has not happened," said Kevin Walsh, the associate director of the Fair Share Housing Center, a nonprofit organization that is currently suing the state for information about how applicants for Sandy grants are evaluated.
But the group's primary focus has now moved from revising FEMA flood maps to repealing or delaying flood insurance rate increases passed by Congress in 2012.
"Were not going to fight them by having rallies," said Kasimos. "We're going to grow into a national organization. When they write that legislation, I'm going to be there and I'm going to say no."
Kasimos cited the difficulty in calculating future insurance rate increases, a lack of information about how funds are managed by the National Flood Insurance Program, and the percentage of premiums allocated to the insurance companies who administer the policies.
"We can't make heads or tales of any of it," added Doris E. Zampella, the executive vice president of E. A. Insurance and a flood insurance agent for 30 years. "I've read 80 pages. I've read it 16 times. I couldn't tell you how to figure out how to [calculate] a rate."
The group's reform efforts have the backing of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, ranking member of the House Committee on Financial Services, and one of the co-sponsors of the very law Kasimos hopes to repeal.
"I am outraged by the increased costs of flood insurance premiums that have resulted from the Biggert‐Waters Act.," Rep. Waters said in a statement sent to the group Friday evening. "I certainly did not intend for these types of outrageous premiums to occur for any homeowner."
"It affects everybody in the neighborhood, not just me," said Toms River resident Ginny Appignana, explaining why she attended Saturday's rally. "If no one is paying attention to what's going on, it's just going to get worse for me and everybody."