WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate voted Tuesday to extend for four months the program that provides flood insurance for nearly 5 million homeowners and business owners.
The bill's passage by an 86-12 vote averted a scenario in which people living in coastal communities would have been unable to renew their flood insurance policies or purchase new ones during the peak of hurricane season.
The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last week. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law just hours before the program was set to expire.
The National Flood Insurance program owes more than $20 billion to the federal treasury, and that's after Congress last year provided a $16 billion bailout to ensure the program could continue paying claims from people hard hit by Hurricane Harvey.
The program offers the only flood insurance available to most Americans. Homeowners who live in areas that have a 1 percent chance of being inundated by flood waters in any given year must purchase flood insurance as a condition of having a federally backed mortgage.
But the premiums paid by policyholders are not keeping up with the expense of flood claims.
Many lawmakers want to reduce the reliance on taxpayers and are pushing changes that would hike rates for some high-risk properties.
The proposed changes have raised concerns from some lawmakers that flood insurance will become unaffordable for many of their constituents.
The extension gives lawmakers more time to work out a compromise, but it would not be a shock for lawmakers to punt the issue to the next Congress.
"History does not provide the public with very much encouragement with regard to actually getting some reforms done," said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said it would have been "bone-deep, down-to-the-marrow stupid" to let the program expire in the middle of hurricane season.
"With this extension in place, we can tackle long-term reforms," Kennedy said.