South Carolina state Rep. Wendell Gilliard says he's "getting calls day in and day out" from financially strapped constituents in the hurricane-prone Lowcountry. Hurricane season is here, and they are worried about keeping up with their homeowners insurance payments.
"If you don't have a job, surely you can't pay your insurance premiums. You can forget about that," said Gilliard, a Democrat from Charleston. "And it couldn't come at a worse time."
The callers want South Carolina lawmakers to help them cover their insurance premiums or force insurers to temporarily waive them. But Gilliard said his hands are tied because the legislature has concluded its session.
Forecasters are predicting a busier than normal hurricane season along the Atlantic coast. If property owners can't pay their insurance premiums and their policies are canceled, the economic toll of a large storm could be even more devastating. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 flooded 204,000 homes and apartments and caused nearly $16 billion in damage to residences in the city of Houston alone, city and state officials estimated.
During the pandemic, 19 states directed insurance companies to suspend insurance policy cancellations for nonpayment, according to Westmont Associates, a consulting firm that is tracking state action.
But hurricane-prone states such as Alabama, Florida and South Carolina did not offer that protection. And in some states that did, including Louisiana and Mississippi, mandated grace periods have expired or are expiring.
Federal stimulus checks and extended unemployment payments have helped many homeowners pay their bills. But unless federal lawmakers pass another stimulus bill, the extra $600 a week in unemployment checks will cease next month. That could leave more homeowners vulnerable as hurricane season progresses.
"I'm not worried right now," Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney told Stateline as he waited in his car to be tested for COVID-19. "But that could change on a dime if corona gets worse and we have a hurricane."
He said he did not extend Mississippi's moratorium on canceling policies because insurance carriers told the state they were willing to work with consumers in case they fell behind on their premiums. Residents statewide can buy wind damage insurance from a state pool, he noted.
"My concern is if we keep going forward and we don't have any extension of the CARES Act or any stimulus programs, that people won't be able to pay their insurance," Chaney said.