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House approves bill to ease flood insurance hikes

WASHINGTON — The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.

The bill would allow sellers to pass along their subsidized, below-market insurance rates to new buyers and lower the limit on how much flood insurance premiums can rise each year. The measure was approved 306 to 91.

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Representative Michael Grimm, a New York Republican who cosponsored the bill, said it would ensure that families across the country, including those still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy, can avoid ‘‘a wave of devastating premium hikes and foreclosures.’’

The bipartisan bill would tone down a 2012 law aimed at weaning hundreds of thousands of homeowners off subsidized flood insurance rates. The federal flood insurance program is now some $24 billion in the red, mostly because of huge losses from Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. The 2012 law required extensive updating of the flood maps used to set premiums.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which passed a measure in January delaying implementation of the insurance overhaul by four years.

Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and sponsor of the Senate bill, said Tuesday night he supports the House measure, which he said closely mirrors his bill.

The 2012 law was cosponsored by Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who also cosponsored the latest fix to what she called the original law’s ‘‘unintended effects’’ of dramatic rate increases for homeowners.

Some GOP lawmakers complained that the Republican-controlled House was going along with a measure widely supported by Democrats. A total of 180 Democrats joined 126 Republicans in supporting the bill.

Implementation of the 2012 law has stirred anxiety among homeowners along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in other flood plains.

Many homeowners have complained they face unaffordable rate increases. Anger over the higher rates has fueled a bipartisan drive to delay or derail many of the 2012 changes.

The House bill would permanently repeal a provision that imposes sharp rate increases on people who buy homes in flood-prone areas. The bill also preserves below-market rates for people whose homes meet federal flood map standards.

Rates imposed by the 2012 law are particularly high in older coastal communities in states such as Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey and have put a damper on home sales as prospective buyers recoil at the higher premium rates.

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