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Disaster-Prone Cities Urge Congress to Expand National Flood Insurance Program

San Juan, Puerto Rico a week after Hurricane Maria.

San Juan, Puerto Rico a week after Hurricane Maria. Ramon Espinosa / AP Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

“The terrible human suffering and economic damage wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria make apparent the immediate need to focus on future-proofing communities…”

The 100 Resilient Cities network released a series of policy proposals on Wednesday for expanding the National Flood Insurance Program on the heels of an “unprecedented” hurricane season.

Four major hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. this year, and NFIP authorization is set to expire in December—to the detriment of flood-prone cities attempting to prepare for future disasters.

NFIP aids cities in mitigating flood risk while financing homeowners’ and businesses’ rebuilds post-disaster.

“The terrible human suffering and economic damage wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria make apparent the immediate need to focus on future-proofing communities and protecting low- and moderate-income residents who are most vulnerable to flooding and other extreme weather events,” said Marion McFadden, Enterprise Community Partners’ vice president of public policy, in the announcement. “These recommendations strike the right balance by increasing hazard mitigation measures and reforming delivery of the nation’s flood insurance to ensure both fiscally sound operations and affordability.”

Mayors and flood experts were consulted in partnership with ECP and the Georgetown Climate Center while crafting the proposals for Congress, which is considering NFIP reform. As of July 2016, the program was $24 billion in debt to the U.S. Treasury, underused by homeowners and reliant upon outdated floodplain maps in setting rates that price vulnerable people out of coverage.

More than 20 U.S. cities in the 100RC network are susceptible to coastal and stormwater flooding, like Miami, New Orleans, Norfolk and New York City.

Strategies include maintaining insurance affordability while providing accurate risk-based price signals, funding and incentivizing flood mitigation programs, maintaining up-to-date flood risk and future conditions data, and increasing NFIP participation.

The first could be accomplished if the Federal Emergency Management Agency was given the authority to offer vouchers for low- and moderate-income families to reduce their flood losses and qualify them for lower insurance premiums. Hard-to-retrofit buildings could receive special assistance.

Natural approaches to reducing flood risks are projects that should be prioritized, according to the report:

The Administration or Congress’s infrastructure package should include funding or financing options to help communities make investments in infrastructure projects (both green and gray) that will reduce risks from natural hazards, including floods. Congress should also give FEMA explicit authority to reduce flood insurance premiums based upon neighborhood- or community-level investments in flood- mitigation.

A revolving loan program for retrofits and updating FEMA’s Community Rating System, which reduces premiums for cities adopting more robust floodplain management practices, are also suggested.

Full congressional funding of the floodplain mapping program, as well as allowing FEMA to combine funding and data, like high-resolution digital elevation information, from the public and private sectors would make the agency far more informative. So would local education and outreach programs.

“A robust, comprehensive, and effective NFIP is an essential tool in a city’s resilience building toolbelt,” Michael Berkowitz, 100RC’s president, said in a statement. “The program needs to be revitalized and reconfigured to ensure that cities can continue to use it to build resilience to the next challenge, not just recover from the last.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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