Washington, D.C. – On March 5, SmarterSafer, a national coalition of taxpayer advocates, environmental groups, insurance interests, housing organizations and mitigation advocates sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging policymakers to reform the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The program is set to expire on May 31st and has been reauthorized ten times since September 2017 with no real reforms made to accommodate the increase in devastating weather events.
“We urge Congress to reform the flood program now to protect people and property before the next weather event occurs. Americans affected by flood events like Hurricane Florence and Michael need this important flood coverage to rebuild their lives. Congress must address the federal program’s fiscal problems while making sure homeowners at risk have better choices in insurance coverage. Though Congress has extended the program several times, they have done nothing to reform it and help people understand their risk and how they can better plan and prepare for disasters.”
The Honorable Mitch McConnell The Honorable Charles Schumer
Majority Leader Minority Leader
U.S. Capitol, S-230 U.S. Capitol, S-221
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20501
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Speaker of the House Minority Leader
U.S. Capitol U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:
With the start of a new Congress, there is great opportunity to enact much needed reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). As you know, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is set to expire once again on May 31st. SmarterSafer – a broad based coalition of conservation groups, taxpayer advocates, insurance interests, and housing and mitigation experts – urges Congress to make meaningful reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to ensure it is financially stable over the long term and better protects people in harm’s way, the environment, and taxpayers.
Unfortunately, NFIP— which has borrowed over $40 billion from US taxpayers—has now been extended ten times since September 2017 without needed reforms. Communities and people at risk deserve better; they need certainty and options that meet their needs. We urge you to act quickly to pass a longer-term reauthorization that includes meaningful reforms.
This past year saw several destructive hurricane and flood events, including Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which affected millions of Americans and cost billions of dollars in damages. These events show that more needs to be done to encourage those in harm’s way to mitigate their risk and purchase needed insurance so they can rebuild. Congress must act not only to shore up the program’s finances, but also to ensure more accurate mapping, to provide consumers with information on risks and choices in insurance coverage, and to encourage mitigation.
To ensure the program is sustainable in the long term and to ensure those at risk are better protected, any long-term reauthorization must include the following common-sense reforms:
Accurate mapping – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must be required to ensure that mapping data has both greater engineering confidence and includes property-level elevation information gathered through Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) surveys, a proven technique to develop high-resolution accurate maps. Without more accurate mapping, homeowners may be misled as to flood risk and burdened by having to obtain expensive elevation certificates and going through time-consuming appeals with FEMA.
Mitigation–The best way to reduce flood insurance rates is by reducing risk. Congress must require FEMA to work with lenders and the Federal Housing Administration to facilitate mitigation loans, to provide more flexibility in ICC mitigation funds so they can be used pre- disaster, and to require communities to plan for known flood risks and assess community- wide nature-based mitigation efforts that are cost-effective and will reduce future flooding. Mitigation saves lives and property, and is cost-effective, saving over six dollars for every dollar spent.
Continued move to solvency – Congress must continue to move NFIP to fiscal soundness by gradually phasing properties to risk-based rates coupled with mitigation assistance and affordability measures for those who are low-income. For too long, the federal government has masked risk through subsidized rates, resulting in a program deeply in debt to taxpayers. Congress should continue a gradual move to risk-based rates, and should include assistance outside of the rate structure for low-income homeowners who cannot afford their full risk- based rates. Where cost-effective, subsidies should be used for mitigation to reduce risk. To ensure solvency, FEMA should continue to use reserve funds and reinsurance to manage and reduce risk.
Consumer choice/Affordability – Congress should clarify current law so that any homeowner can choose private flood policies if they find better rates and/or coverage in the private sector. Homeowners in harm’s way should not be forced to purchase a federal NFIP policy if they can find a more affordable private policy merely because of a lack of clarity. A recent study found that in the three states with over half of all flood insurance policies, even in the highest risk areas – V zones – between 62 and 88 percent of all homeowners could potentially access more affordable flood options in the private sector. If Congress wants to address affordability, consumer options are critical.
Increased transparency – Homeowners and communities can only make decisions to reduce the potential for flood damages if they have access to information about flood risks. FEMA should be required to make more data available to the public on flood losses, repeatedly flooded homes, and community compliance with the NFIP. Homeowners and buyers should also have a right to know more about a home’s history of flood damages to help guide their decisions about mitigation.
We urge Congress to move a bill quickly that extends the flood program while making these needed reforms and look forward to working with you.
CC: Members of the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee