Huff: Senate must stop ignoring the National Flood Insurance Program
March 5, 2018
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have increasingly relied on do-or-die deadlines to advance critical legislation and keep the government running. But this isn’t the case when it comes to the National Flood Insurance Program. The Senate continues to kick the can down the road on fixing this already-expired program, leaving millions of policyholders at risk when future storms strike.
The one-size-fits-all National Flood Insurance Program, which has long been the only option for homeowners to purchase flood coverage, expired last fall and has needed more than $40 billion in taxpayer funds just to remain afloat.
The program is in desperate need of reform to ensure that new debt is not constantly accrued each time a disaster strikes. But due to inaction in the Senate, lawmakers have been forced to issue a series of short-term extensions to keep the NFIP available. To make matters worse, the two recent government shutdowns caused the NFIP to lapse, which threatened the delay or cancellation of a significant number of home sales because the program was unable to write new policies.
With the NFIP’s next deadline rapidly approaching, the Senate must act now to pass a long-term reauthorization that includes critical reforms to the program that address its debt and ensure it is sustainable for the future.
To do that, the Senate should advance a comprehensive 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. Importantly, the bill would clarify that property owners in flood zones can use private flood insurance to satisfy the federal lending requirement.
This technical correction to the current law would simply level the playing field for private sector competition in the flood insurance market place. As a former insurance regulator, I know that facilitating a more robust private flood market could be a win for consumers, because private insurers could offer more options at better rates and higher coverage limits. It would also ensure that consumers have ongoing access to flood insurance even if the NFIP were temporarily unavailable, because private insurers are not reliant on the federal government to write or renew policies.
FEMA, the federal agency that oversees the flood insurance program, has also recognized the importance of shifting the NFIP’s risk to the private sector. Last month, the agency purchased its second reinsurance policy to help finance Americas’ flood claims. FEMA’s modest investment saved taxpayers $850 million from last year’s historic storms, and is helping the government pay claims to property owners across the country.
In addition to transferring more risk from taxpayers to the private sector, there are other reforms that would help better protect people and property at risk of severe storms — several of which were included in the House legislation.
One of these changes is to ensure that the most accurate risk assessment tools and advanced technology are being used to create up-to-date flood maps. Fact-based flood maps would give property owners a better understanding of their flood risk so that communities can better prepare for future storms. It is also important that the NFIP dedicates more resources to mitigation efforts. This includes having the program provide financial assistance to lower-income policyholders so that communities are better prepared when a severe storm strikes.
Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the U.S., so lawmakers cannot continue to kick the can down the road on these critical reforms to the NFIP. With the severity and frequency of catastrophic storms increasing each year, the Senate must act now to ensure the country does not continue toward a future it cannot afford.
John Huff is the President of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers and is a member of SmarterSafer.org.