by Steve Ellis vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense and a member of the SmarterSafer coalition
The record-breaking floodwaters that recently soaked Ventura County should serve as the latest warning that unless Congress reforms and renews the nation’s debt-ridden flood insurance program, more than 238,900 residents across California may be unable to rebuild after the next storm strikes.
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 approaching in four short months, the Senate must act now to address the NFIP’s mounting debt and ensure it is sustainable in the future.
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 important aspect of the bill would clarify that property owners in flood zones can use private flood insurance to satisfy the federal lending requirement.
Even with more than 238,900 NFIP policies, too few California residents have purchased flood insurance. Some residents may avoid the NFIP because the one-size-fits-all policy fails to provide homeowners with the coverage they need at a price they can afford. Expanding the flood insurance market with more private insurance options would encourage more residents to purchase flood coverage, since policies could be tailored to individual properties.
There are several other reforms that the Senate should pursue to help better protect people and property at risk of severe storms— 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 would help them take the appropriate measures to prepare for future storms. It would also help ensure that rates more accurately reflect the risk a property faces.
Floods have hit California hard in the past, and unfortunately, major storms will likely continue to hammer the state and rest of the country for the foreseeable future. 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.