Flood Funding Reform

In The NewsFlood Funding Reform

In The News,  | Analysis
May 7, 2019  | 6 min read | Print Article

This article by Lisa Fletcher with Full Measure Staff first appeared in Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson on May 5, 2019

As the old saying goes.. when it rains, it pours. And often, the floods that follow are predictably in the same place every time. That means again and again, the same home destroyed by flooding may be rebuilt through a national flood insurance program.. financed by public money. And not so strangely, that program itself is underwater. Lisa Fletcher reports.

In March, much of the Midwest became a disaster zone, as floodwaters rushed in, swallowing homes, farms, and businesses. In Iowa alone, damage is estimated at more than $1.6 billion.

In the wake of the destruction, residents will rely on payouts from the National Flood Insurance Program. But critics say the program you find at ‘flood-smart dot gov’ — is anything but smart.

Steve Ellis — with the Watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense — has looked critically at the National Flood Insurance Program for years.

Part of the problem, he says, is the national flood insurance system provides subsidized coverage on expensive, high-risk homes.

Steve Ellis: There are people who right now who are have million dollar homes that have subsidies, they don’t need that. They can still purchase the flood insurance, but there are also people who probably have a $60,000 home who can’t afford a few hundred dollars.

FEMA wants to change that. It’s announcing an overhaul to re-examine flood risk for individual properties, and alter premium prices based on the results. As of now, You’re required to buy flood insurance only if you live in a designated flood zone. But the rating methodology hasn’t been changed since the 1970s and Ellis says it’s in need of a second look.

Steve Ellis: FEMA recognized that they’re mapping is woefully out of date and mapping technology is woefully out of date and so they are actually trying to have more advanced maps that are, have a property level data rather than sort of big broad zones and that actually reflect the level of risk.

FEMA says the new evaluations will take into account a list of factors — like types of flooding, how far a home is from the coast, and the cost of rebuilding it.

Once it determines who needs insurance, FEMA says it will create a scale of cost, raising premiums for the highest-risk places – and homes that would be most expensive to rebuild – and lowering them for lower cost homes.

Lisa: Does that make sense to you?

Steve Ellis: Absolutely makes sense. I mean we shouldn’t be overcharging people and we certainly shouldn’t be undercharging people. People should know their, their relative level of risk.

Part of the goal is discouraging people from repeatedly rebuilding in risky places. Like the single home in Texas that has flooded 22 times since 1979…Soaking up 2 and a half million dollars in payouts to rebuild.

Lisa: One of the concerns is people repeatedly rebuilding in risky areas. How would this combat that?

Steve Ellis: One of the things we need to do is make sure that we reduce the subsidies because a lot of these places if it’s only half damaged or less than half damaged, they can rebuild just exactly the same way in that same spot. We want to make sure that, if you’re going to rebuild these repetitive loss properties that you’re paying full freight under, the flood insurance program. And we think that’s going to be a really important aspect. So there’s both risk communication through mapping, but it’s also the price signals that you’re sending to people that this is a higher risk area.

It’s too soon to know how much rates could change under the new, revamped flood insurance program. New insurance premiums are due to be announced in spring of 2020, going into effect October of that year. Even if flood insurance will become more affordable for many, the prospect of higher premiums…Is drawing pushback, particularly from the states with the most residential flooding.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is demanding FEMA slow down its overhaul.

Sen. Chuck Schumer: I have a four letter message to FEMA: H-a-l-t. Halt. Stop. Stop this plan. Let us know what you’re doing. Let Congress and homeowners have input, not just insurance companies, not just people who benefit, and we can get things done.

Steve Ellis: It’s never popular with your constituents to see that and they’re paying higher rates for insurance. The people who see the premiums go up are going to be apoplectic and try to get their, lawmakers to step in. And i think that’s, we’ll have to see exactly how that plays out.

Lawmakers have tried to overhaul the flood insurance program before. In 2017, the House passed a bill to reform it. The Senate didn’t act on it.