By Steve Ellis
The federal government’s flood-insurance system is swimming in more than $23 billion of debt, and while some Florida lawmakers have proposed temporary relief, more than two million homeowners across the state will be footing the bill unless Congress implements comprehensive reforms.
In recent years, the broken National Flood Insurance Program has been saddled with billions of dollars in losses, and there is no end in sight. With more than 5 million policyholders nationwide, the NFIP is far too important to be put on the back burner. The program is up for reauthorization next year, so lawmakers need to prioritize fixing the program before it drowns in its own debt.
Congress can start now by taking steps to inject more private insurers into the flood-insurance market, which will move risks and costs from taxpayers to the private-capital markets. More competition in the flood-insurance market would result in better rates and higher coverage limits for Florida policyholders, making rebuilding easier the next time a severe storm hits the coast. Florida U.S. Reps Dennis Ross, a Republican, and Patrick Murphy, a Democrat, are to be congratulated for their legislation that would help private-sector flood-insurance alternatives gain access to the marketplace.
But lawmakers should also explore over time phasing out flood-insurance subsidies and moving the NFIP to a system of risk-based rates derived from updated and accurate flood maps that reflect the true danger and costs of building in flood-prone areas. And to better protect lives and property, we need to focus more on incentivizing storm-mitigation efforts before a disaster strikes, which includes providing financial assistance to lower-income policyholders so they can more effectively prepare for the risks of future storms.
It is clear we can no longer rely on outdated disaster policies developed when severe storms struck with less frequency. As mounting evidence shows, severe storms are becoming more prolific, lawmakers must prioritize reforms that reflect these growing risks and can better protect lives and property.
Florida residents know these risks all too well, and with extreme weather now a modern-day reality, Floridians need to know that flood insurance will be available to them so they can recover after the next disaster strikes.
Disaster-policy reform is a nonpartisan issue that all lawmakers should be able to rally around, and it is long past time to move forward with reforms that will save lives, protect property and reduce the costs of recovery after future storms. Florida residents can take action by demanding their representatives in Congress prioritize these reforms today so the state can avoid a major crisis tomorrow.
Steve Ellis is vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense and a member of the SmarterSafer coalition.
This article was originally published by the Orlando Sentinel on April 22, 2016.