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Sandy victims, not Mexico, may have to pay for Trump's border wall

New Jersey residents and elected officials pan a draft proposal that would impose a surcharge on the National Flood Insurance Program to help pay for the multibillion border wall.

Bob Huff is in general a supporter of President Trump, but the Brigantine, N.J., resident was not too keen on a proposal floated out of Washington that would slap a surcharge on flood-insurance premiums to help pay for the president's multibillion-dollar border wall.

"I thought Mexico was going to pay for the wall," said Huff, whose home took on several feet of water during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and required total reconstruction and elevation — work that displaced his family and is still not completed.

"Eventually?" he said. "Are they going to refund me money for my flood-insurance premium? I don't think it's going to work."

Huff is one of about 231,000 New Jersey residents insured through the National Flood Insurance Program, which faces a congressional reauthorization hearing beginning Tuesday. The program expires Sept. 30.

The Washington Post reported last week that a draft of the president's budget proposal included several sources of funding for Trump's signature Mexico wall, including cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Safety Administration.

A surcharge on premiums for flood insurance was also proposed,  the Post reported.

The idea has gotten a decidedly tepid reception in places such as New Jersey and Miami, both locations with routine and damaging flooding, and where a critical mass of the population takes out the insurance.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo tweeted in opposition to the proposal.

LoBiondo, a Republican who represents New Jersey's Second Congressional District, which includes Atlantic and Cape May Counties, vowed to fight the surcharge and for the continuation of the program. He has also vowed to fight Coast Guard cuts designed to help pay for the wall.

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) held a news conference Monday to object to the idea.

In Little Ferry, N.J., on Monday, Menendez outlined a series of changes to what he called the "much-maligned" insurance plan, which is administered by FEMA. The senator said FEMA experienced "widespread failures and fraud, cheating storm victims and hampering recovery."

He said his changes would simplify the program and make it more accountable to consumers and taxpayers, and eliminate what he called "perverse incentives that drive up costs."

"The answer isn't to slam homeowners with even higher rates," he said.

Menendez also attacked the plan to fund the border wall by charging flood victims.

"The idea that Mexico was ever going to pay for a giant wall along our southern border was laughable, but the notion that New Jersey homeowners should pay for it is unconscionable," he said in a statement. "Tacking another surcharge onto flood insurance premiums would likely put policies out of reach."

Post-Sandy activists, who have long questioned FEMA policies, quickly spread the word, and their outrage, on social media, as did the Association of State Flood Plain Managers (ASPM).

Mayor Beth Holtzman of Ventnor, which was hard-hit by Sandy, called the proposal "absurd." She noted that many Ventnor residents are still displaced and others are already paying high premiums. She pays about $3,300 a year for flood insurance, required with any mortgage.

"That would be horrible," said Holtzman, who had four feet of water in her house after the Oct. 29, 2012, storm. "As a taxpayer and a mayor, if they're going to impose a tax to pay for something, then it's got to go across the board."

In New Jersey, families like Huff's that elevated their homes saw premiums drop; in Huff's case, from about $2,300 a year to about $350. Families like Holtzman's that opted not to elevate their homes saw the premiums go up.

Gov. Christie's office did not  respond to a request for comment.