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Over many months now, Congress has continued to avoid passing a long-term renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program. The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America was hoping to end this and persuade legislators to change their minds during a massive annual lobbying effort on Capitol Hill April 19.

IIABA President and CEO Bob Rusbuldt and Charles Symington, the group’s senior vice president for external, industry and government affairs, told Carrier Management that more than 1,000 of their members came to the group’s annual conference focused on meeting with their congressional representatives and promoting issues crucial to agents, brokers and carriers alike. High on the list: long-term renewal/reform of the NFIP.

“Flood insurance is a federal program. It’s one of the top agenda items, [and] it expires July 31. Many, many people in this country have to have flood insurance in order to get a mortgage, and so we believe flood insurance needs to be reauthorized,” Rusbuldt said. “We believe there needs to be certainty in the marketplace and we need Congress to understand what this means for real people in their congressional districts in their states.”

Interviewed separately, Symington explained that federal flood insurance renewal is a must-pass item, in large part because of the expiration’s timing.

“Many of our members sell the product and offer [it] to their customers,” Symington said. “They’re very concerned that the program is scheduled to expire in the middle of the summer, which more importantly is in the middle of hurricane season.”

Symington added that members lobbying Congress on April 19 wanted to make sure their representatives understood what would happen back in their home districts if the program expires.

Even so, Rusbuldt said he was “highly convinced” that his and other groups can win reauthorization of the flood insurance program due to its vital importance.

“You can’t shut down the real estate market [or] the home building market. You can’t leave people bare in hurricane season and flooding seasons,” Rusbuldt said. “Commerce in many parts of the country will come to a grinding halt without this program.”

Rusbuldt said federal flood insurance can function with reforms that won’t gut the program, though he added it would work well enough to be simply reauthorized.

“If they don’t have the wherewithal to do reforms, then take the current program and reauthorize it for five years,” he said. “They have a lot of options. They will get it done [and] they have to get it done.”

The IIABA also planned to lobby Congress last week on other issues. They include:

  • Crop insurance. Rusbuldt explained that renewal of the coverage, known as the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) would be tied up in the annual farm bill. While crop insurance renewal has bipartisan support, the broader bill also contains controversial cuts in food stamps and child nutrition programs. Rusbuldt said that his and other insurance groups will have to navigate those difficult areas before the crop insurance expiration in September. “It’s going to be a lot of work,” he said. “We’re hoping that [Congress] can reach some sort of bipartisan accommodation on issues that have nothing to do with crop insurance so we can get the crop insurance program reauthorized.”
  • Tax reform. While federal tax reform passed at the end of 2017, it now has to be implemented, and the Big “I” planned to focus on provisions that could help or hurt agents and brokers as they take effect. Symington explained that a third of members are organized as C-Corps, so they will benefit from the C-Corp tax reduction rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. But two-thirds of members are organized as “pass-through” businesses, so they pay at individual rates. It is unclear if they’ll qualify for a 20 percent small business deduction, and Symington said members would push for its codification in regulations.
  • Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity continues to be of great concern to agents, brokers and carriers alike, as Congress struggles to keep up with what is a fast-evolving risk.

Members from every state in the country and also some international agents came to the Big “I’s” annual Washington, D.C. gathering. Symington explained that they would meet with nearly every congressional office in scheduled meetings, with Senate and House members directly as well as staff.

“Congressional staff are oftentimes making decisions as well, and they’re very important, and that’s what we tell our folks: ‘No matter who you meet with when you’re in a congressional office, please make your case, be clear and precise, and treat everybody with respect.'”