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Catholic Churches face a crisis in northwest Florida: just like homeowners in the state – Church Dioceses (the regional grouping of churches under a bishop or archbishop) must absorb the spike in insurance costs laid out this year.

Background on the Insurance Crisis in Florida

In July, Farmers Insurance pulled out of the Florida market altogether. Farmers is the 10th largest insurance company in the country, with about $16 billion in written insurance premiums. The company saw a decline of almost 11 percent from the previous year in terms of the number of outstanding premiums. Farmers were the only insurance company to shrink in terms of premiums in the top 10 American Insurers. 

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation sent a note to Farmers in July of 2023arguing that the state was “disappointed by the hastiness in this decision and troubled by how this decision may have cascading impacts to policyholders. Farmers have noted this decision only impacts 26.6% percent [sic] of their Florida policyholders, but any impact which impacts policyholders should not be taken lightly. OIR (the Florida Office Of Insurance Regulation)’s primary concern is ensuring a stable and competitive market, and we believe policyholders deserve reliable service from their insurance company.”

Despite efforts by Representative Patt Maney, Governor Ron DeSantis, and the Florida Legislature, insurance prices have become a massive problem for churches in the Catholic tradition in the panhandle – as well as individuals with policies. As recently as a month ago, during church announcements at Holy Name of Jesus in Niceville – Father Stephen Voyt noted the increase alone would constitute many of the smaller Catholic Churches in the northwest Florida area’s budget, churches in smaller towns like DeFuniak Springs and Marianna – would have little room for much else from religious education to charitable outreach. Churches like Holy Name of Jesus would see a significant but ultimately manageable increase, providing churchgoers giving increases to meet it. 

How the Diocese Plans to Deal with Increases

The Catholic Diocese of Pensacola-Tallhassee deals with insurance collectively, meaning all churches have a large policy together with a specialty insurer – in this case, Lloyd’s of London. The corporate nature of the diocese allows it to insure all 49 churches, its ten schools, and hundreds of other properties it owns with one carrier. 

There are roughly about 64,000 practicing Catholics and 53 priests in the 18 counties that make up the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Practicing Catholics make up approximately 4.5% of the total population of the area. Those Catholics maintain more than 240 properties (that we can find on the 18 counties’ property appraiser’s rolls) worth about $171.9 Million – making the Diocese one of the largest property owners in the area. An interactive map we’ve created below shows about 75% of the property value is located along the coastline between Pensacola and Panama City. 

The Most Reverend William A. Wack, Bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee

Because of the hurricane activity in the Gulf Coast region over the last five years, that insurer told the diocese that it would raise its deductible from around $2 million per storm to $25 million per storm. “They informed us that they’ve had such heavy losses over the last four years, especially with hurricanes Michael and Sally, that they could no longer cover us for the first $25 million in damage,” said Pensacola-Tallahassee Bishop William Wack, “So, that’s basically our deductible as a diocese, which is unbelievable.”

The roughly 1200% increase in deductible means that the diocese has had to increase its levy on churches to build up a fund to cover the loss of a church or school from a storm – meaning larger collection goals for each church.

So what happens to the churches that are too small to afford the increase in insurance costs? Would they close after a storm – or because of the rise in the insurance costs themselves? “No, we would not let that happen. Not because of insurance. No, not at all,” Bishop Wack said, “Now, what may happen is, they may have to consolidate or do something with their services so that they can pay it. But there are some parishes and schools that cannot afford to pay it right now. They just don’t have the budget. And so, of course, the diocese will try to figure that out even more.”

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