By Lorraine Woellert
As Florida and other states deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, a coalition of insurers, environmental activists and tax watchdogs is calling on the next president to shift funding to disaster mitigation and overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program.
“Increasingly frequent and severe storms pose an unprecedented risk to life and property for millions of Americans and will require the next president’s urgent attention,” the coalition wrote in a letter to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“Federal disaster policies focus almost entirely on post-disaster cleanup instead of pre-disaster strategies that minimize damage before a storm strikes,” the group wrote. “This approach is completely unsustainable.”
The letter was sent a day after the candidates’ third and final debate, during which climate change was mentioned only once, in passing. It was signed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Taxpayers for Common Sense, insurer Liberty Mutual, the National Housing Conference and more than two dozen other groups.
The flood insurance program was under stress well before Matthew hit the U.S. in early October, causing at least 43 deaths in the U.S. and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. That’s in addition to unrelated, catastrophic flooding in Louisiana, Florida, Maryland and West Virginia.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has received more than 16,500 flood claims from Matthew and made early payments of more than $12.3 million so far, according to the agency.
At the end of 2014, the flood insurance program was $23 billion in debt, up from $20 billion two years earlier. It’s unlikely to collect enough money in premiums to repay money borrowed from taxpayers, according to the Government Accountability Office. Efforts by FEMA to raise insurance rates and expand flood maps has led to state and local resistance.
In April, House lawmakers unanimously passed a bill that would make it easier for private insurers to sell flood coverage. In Thursday’s letter, the coalition called for a Senate vote on the legislation, the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act.
Under a 2015 order from President Barack Obama, federal agencies have begun taking steps to protect communities against the effects of climate change and improve resilience to flooding, part of the administration’s broader action plan on climate change.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, is preparing to announce new construction standards for houses, apartment buildings, hospitals and other HUD-backed properties in flood zones.
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