Time is running out to save a federal flood insurance program that covers an estimated 250,000 New Jersey homes and businesses near the coast and along rivers and streams.

The National Flood Insurance Program will expire at the end of July unless it’s reauthorized by Congress in the next few weeks.

Even if that does happen, there are still big problems.

The program is currently about $25 billion in debt, even as premiums are being raised significantly.

According to Ed Mahaney, the strategic planner for the New Jersey Coastal Coalition, an organization of New Jersey shore communities that promotes flood education, preparation and prevention, having a flood insurance program is absolutely essential for New Jersey.

“We are a state that sits along the Atlantic Ocean. We also have numerous major rivers throughout the state," he said.

He stresses we need to make sure “there is a way to fund it and ensure that all the people who live along coastal and river areas have some level of insurance against a disaster.”

Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher says many people who didn’t have flood insurance when Superstorm Sandy slammed Jersey were forced to simply walk away from their damaged properties because they couldn’t afford to rebuild.

He’s hoping a deal to keep the program going can be reached soon.

“If people don’t have flood insurance it’s going to wipe out the whole area,” he said.

Mahaney says New Jerseyans must be able to afford flood insurance because “coastal storms and the major rain events that we were used to periodically have become more frequent as we seem to getting more prominently involved with sea level rise.”

The flood insurance program, which began in 1968, has been subsidized by the federal government. But after a series of major storms in recent years, including Superstorm Sandy, subsidies are being gradually removed and those who are insured are being required to begin to pay the actual cost of their coverage.

“They’re starting with the older flood-prone repetitive loss properties, moving them to pay an additional 25 percent a year,” he explained.

He noted after that insurance rates for newer homes will begin to rise.

“That will affect the real estate markets, it will affect the businesses, it will affect tourism and tourism is the third leading industry in New Jersey,” he said.

“It’s become a huge problem, and the more storms there are the more evident it becomes that this is a program that needs a correction factor.”

If the program is not reauthorized, anyone with a current policy will only have it remain in effect only until the next renewal period, which would not be longer than one year from now. But Mahaney predicts a compromise will be reached to continue the program for at least a few months, even if no final solution is agreed to in the next few weeks.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com