It all started for “selfish reasons,” says Stop FEMA Now founder George Kasimos, a Toms River resident whose lagoon home suffered Superstorm Sandy flood damage.
“I was rebuilding my home. My neighbor comes to me in late December and says, ‘We gotta raise our homes,'” Kasimos says. “From that point on, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Do I raise it? Walk away?'”
Kasimos quickly learned that by not complying with the requirements of Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “V” Zone — the most sensitive flood area delineated in the Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps — he would have to pay about $30,000 annually for flood insurance.
Before Superstorm Sandy struck, Kasimos paid $1,000 annually for flood insurance.
At that moment, “Stop FEMA Now” was born.
The grassroots movement quickly attracted homeowners dealing with the same issues as Kasimos, with the organization’s Facebook page growing to about 5,700 “likes” today. It’s now a virtual community where people gather to discuss their plight and also where Kasimos announces the numerous meetings he organizes throughout the area.
Newsworks contributor Sandy Levine profiled Kasimos earlier this year after a Stop FEMA Now rally. Since then, his cause continued to gain momentum.
Kasimos is ready to rally again, and this time it’s nationwide.
People will make their voices heard Saturday in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, and Alabama. (For a complete list of rally locations, including many in New Jersey, visit here.)
“It’s not just a New Jersey issue. It’s not just a Sandy issue,” Kasimos stresses. “There are 5.5 million homes in flood zones across the United States. Our primary objective is to lower flood insurance hikes to something more reasonable, like a 10-20 percent hike. A 300 to 3,000 percent increase is ridiculous.”
While 10,000 properties in Toms River were once in the most sensitive “V” Zone earlier this year, following an Advisory Base Flood Elevation update, 1,000 remain in the “V” Zone and 9,000 are now in the much less flood-prone “A” Zone, including Kasimos’ property.
Expected flood insurance rates are now significantly less because of the flood zone change, but Kasimos says they’re still too high, as he’ll be paying between $6,000 and $9,500 a year.
And that’s just one issue that Stop FEMA Now will rally against Saturday.
Kasimos acknowledges that it’s not really FEMA’s fault. The purse strings are controlled by the United States Congress, he says.
“Where’s our grant money? The money missing is Congress’ fault. FEMA’s money comes from Congress. The insurance lobby is there.”
“This is not going to be resolved in three months. This is a trillion dollar issue.”