Posted: 4:43 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012

9 Investigates Hurricane Catastrophe Fund

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ORLANDO, Fla. —

This year's hurricane season may be over, but many Floridians continue to pay for the damage caused by storms that ravaged the state seven and eight years ago, 9 Investigative reporter George Spencer found.

Every Florida homeowner and driver, since 2007, has paid special assessments to the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund for old hurricane damage.

Now, six years after they kicked in, Spencer learned how many more years residents will have to pay those special assessments.

Spencer talked to Shirley Bryant, who has lived in Orlando's Conway neighborhood for 20 years.

That time period includes the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. The storms those years caused damage so costly that 6 million Florida homeowners and drivers are still paying it off.

Bryant was reminded of her $32 home assessment during year-end budgeting.

"The first question I had is, you know, 'Why are we still paying this?'" Bryant asked. "We haven't had a hurricane in Florida since 2004."

It was actually Hurricane Wilma, slamming south Florida in 2005, that sent the Hurricane Catastrophe Fund into shortfall.

Out of $2.65 billion the fund borrowed, only about half that amount has been repaid to date, Spencer found. The remaining $1.3 billion is still being paid off through 1.3 percent assessments added on home and car insurance.

Spencer explained that the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund is as almost like back-up insurance. If your car insurance provider or homeowner's insurance company suffers catastrophic losses, the fund will reimburse a portion of those losses.

State officials said the fund promotes stability by giving insurance companies confidence that they'll get help following their biggest hits.

Estimates show providers would likely charge everyone 25 to 30 percent more if the Catastrophe Fund didn't exist.

But paying off old damage will still take a while. The payoff was originally set to be completed by 2013. The current expiration is July 1, 2016, which means three and a half more years of add-ons to residents' insurance.

That payoff date assumes Florida doesn't experience any catastrophic storms between now and then, Spencer said.

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