The looming Atlantic hurricane season should serve as a strong warning that unless Congress reforms and renews the nation’s debt-ridden flood insurance program, more than 1.7 million Floridians may be unable to rebuild when future storms strike.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which provides flood coverage to more than 22,000 communities across the country, expired last fall and is billions of dollars in debt to U.S. taxpayers. Due to inaction in the Senate, lawmakers have been forced to issue a series of short-term extensions to keep the broken program afloat. But with the next deadline rapidly approaching, lawmakers must act now to reform and reauthorize the NFIP to ensure it is sustainable.
The Senate can start by passing a legislative package similar to the 21st Century Flood Reform Act, a bill that passed the House of Representatives last fall and includes several significant reforms that address the program’s mounting debt.
One would clarify that property owners in flood zones across the country can use private flood insurance to satisfy the federal lending requirement. More competition in the flood insurance marketplace would result in additional consumer choice, better rates and higher coverage limits, making rebuilding easier for home and business owners after the next storm strikes.
This technical correction would also shift risk off of taxpayers, helping stabilize the flood program and reduce the burden on taxpayers. In fact, a recent analysis by the Reinsurance Association of America found that Congress could save the NFIP billions of taxpayer dollars and improve its long-term financial strength by allowing more private sector insurers to enter the flood insurance marketplace.
There are several other reforms that the Senate should pursue — several of which were included in the House legislation.
One desperately needed reform is to update FEMA’s flood maps, so they use the most accurate risk-assessment tools and modern technologies. Updated flood maps would give property owners an accurate picture of how vulnerable their property is to flooding and help them take the appropriate measures to prepare for storms. It would also help ensure that rates more accurately reflect the risk a property faces.
The NFIP also should be reformed to incentivize storm mitigation efforts. Studies show that every $1 spent on mitigation efforts leads to $6 in reduced future disaster costs. Taking proactive measures would not only save lives but would prevent costly property damage.
Floods have hit Florida hard in the past, and unfortunately, major storms will likely continue to hammer the state and rest of the country. The time has come for the Senate to tackle these NFIP reforms to ensure homeowners suffering from flood damage are not left hanging out to dry.
Steve Ellis is vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense and a member of the SmarterSafer coalition.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.