Who’s to blame for FEMA pulling your 25% flood insurance discount?

Reporter: Andryanna Sheppard
Published: Updated:

Lee County Commissioners pledged to fight back after FEMA announced more than 100,000 homeowners will lose their 25-percent discount on their flood insurance policies as of October 1.

Who’s to blame? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Lee County Commissioners feel blindsided, but were they?

FEMA sent Lee County multiple letters. At least three of them say something along the lines of “failure to enforce these regulations may result in sanctions against the community, including retrograde of Community Rating System (CRS) class, probation, or suspension from the [National Flood Insurance Program].” A retrograde of CRS class would take away homeowners’ 25-percent flood insurance discounts. The county said they responded to each letter and still argue FEMA never said homeowners would lose that discount.

“This isn’t good for our community,” one homeowner said in Tuesday’s Lee County Commissioners meeting.

“This is a hot issue, especially in this state where insurance costs for everything are going sky high,” another homeowner said.

The news sent a jolt through Lee County homeowners and its elected leaders.

“The federal government is here to help. Well, are you?” Lee County Commissioner Chair Mike Greenwell said.

But that frustration and blame game won’t help wallets come October. The County issued a release last Friday stating, “Without any prior notice, FEMA verbally informed Lee County and some of its municipalities late Thursday that it was altering discounts on National Flood Insurance Program premiums that allow residents to save up to 25 percent.” Lee County’s CRS class was retrograded from 5 to 10.

“Based on the discussion that we had with them, they stated that this was a final decision and that there were no appeals available to us,” Lee County Manager Dave Harner said in Tuesday’s meeting.

The three letters sent by FEMA to county leaders are dated February 15, 2023, June 7, 2023, and December 6, 2023. FEMA requested specific documentation from Lee County, including a list of communities with substantial damage. Homes that are considered to have substantial damage suffered repair costs worth more than 50 percent of the market value. They have to be brought up to compliance, like by lifting it. FEMA also asked for lists and copies of permits sent after Ian as well as elevation certificates for any completed work in the Special Flood Hazard Area. In documents Lee County sent WINK News after Tuesday’s meeting, the County told FEMA only 37 permits were given to properties with substantial damage about a year after Ian. Yet in a letter sent in December, FEMA said its teams saw 590 sites under construction but were not provided documentation for the work.

“We did provide voluminous amounts of information and continue to beyond the dates that I stated here,” Harner added. “There are a number of emails back and forth regarding information and information requests.”

County Chair Mike Greenwell said the agency never told them the County would lose its rating and your flood insurance discounts.

“There were multiple letters that FEMA sent and you guys responded back. What’s the difference between FEMA saying if you guys don’t do X, Y, Z then this will happen? How are you guys blindsided by that?” WINK News Consumer Investigator Andryanna Sheppard asked.

“Well you’re blindsided by this because there has to be dialogue in that,” Greenwell responded. “We thought we were complying with everything they asked us to do. If that’s not the case, then why was there not more dialogue?”

As for why the discount will disappear, FEMA told WINK News a “large amount of unpermitted work, lack of documentation and failure to properly monitor activity in Special Flood Hazard Areas.”

“I don’t have any evidence that the County did anything wrong” Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman said when asked if it was possible the County made a mistake. “I think we need to look at all the data. We need to look at FEMA and all the information. They haven’t given us anything in writing. If they can give us in writing something that shows what happened here and it doesn’t match up, then absolutely we need to figure out what happened here.”

Harner said FEMA is expected to send more detailed documentation on what the County did wrong sometime this month. As of now, the earliest Lee County could see its rating come back is April 2026. Homeowners wouldn’t see discounts again until October 2026. The Commissioners want FEMA to suspend its decision and walk to talk to someone from FEMA in person, even if that means going to Washington, D.C.

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