FEMA willing to pay for fire victims’ flood insurance premiums for a longer period of time

Anyone in Mora and San Miguel Counties qualifies. Claims office will evaluate everyone else on a case by case basis.

By: - July 14, 2023 5:00 am
A sign that says "flash flood zone" near trees and underneath dark clouds.

A sign in Mora County warns about flash flooding in September 2022 as storm clouds gather overhead. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

Floods could be a threat for years along the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire burn scar in northern New Mexico. 

Now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended the timeline it’s willing to buy flood insurance plans from one year to five years for communities with high flood risks following New Mexico’s largest wildfire.

Angela Gladwell, director of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Claims Office, said at a press conference on Thursday that her office, since launching in March, has put just over three dozen flood insurance policies in place that are good for a year.

Those policies could now extend another four years.

Getting policies in place

On top of the 37 flood policies Gladwell said claims office workers have put in place, she said they’re currently figuring out premium costs for another 98 policies.

That’s out of over 400 requests the agency has gotten for flood insurance policies, she said.

FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program is helping the claims office cover this five-year timeline.

Gladwell said anyone in Mora or San Miguel Counties who signs up can get their premiums paid for.

Others not in that area also worried about flooding can ask for the five-year plan, and Gladwell said the claims office will approve or deny those requests on a case-by-case basis.

People still have to pay for their own deductibles.

“It’s really important that residents are protecting their homes and their personal property with flood insurance starting now before a weather event occurs and damages occur,” Gladwell said.

David Maurstad is the senior executive of the federal flood program. He said the federal flood program decided to pay for victims’ premiums for up to five years since Congress authorized in 2022 nearly $4 billion in compensation funds for victims.

“How can we provide them as much protection under this special law and special funding?” he said.

Two people sit next to reach other.
Angela Gladwell (left) and David Maurstad talk about extended flood insurance policy coverage on Thursday, July 13, 2023. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

Gladwell noted that anyone getting flood insurance has to get FEMA’s one year policy first, then transfer over to the additional four year policy later. She said claims office employees will reach out when they need to start that process.

She said the costs of the premiums that FEMA will pay for are determined on building size, cost and type.

After the federal government buys the insurance, Gladwell said it’ll still take about a month for people to see the policy go into effect.

She said the claims office can also reimburse premiums for people who have private flood insurance policies.

Gladwell said all premiums must be payable to the claims office by May 2024.

Fire victims have to pay on their own after five years

Maurstad said wildfire conditions can stay present up to seven years after the blaze, meaning flooding could be an issue for that long.

Nationwide, he said only 4% of properties have flood insurance coverage, despite floods being the most common natural disaster.

“It’s a big problem,” he said.

He said high costs are a barrier for many in getting flood insurance, something he wants Congress to fix through an insurance premium assistance program.

The average household income for Mora and San Miguel Counties in 2021 was around $37,000. That’s approximately $17,000 less than the state’s average and $33,700 less than the national median.

After five years, even if floods are still prominent around the burn scar, it’s up to the northern communities to choose whether or not they can sustain continued flood insurance coverage.

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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.