Natural disasters can affect our entire nation. Disaster management and preparation are crucial prior to and in the aftermath of these events. However, striking a balance between the role of federal emergency management and private insurance is challenging.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is supposed to make flood insurance affordable for communities in high risk areas, has problems – and Congress is now working to make flood insurance more comprehensive and effective.
Floods are devastating events, especially for those without flood insurance. In the 23rd District of Texas, along the Rio Grande, flooding has caused problems from Presidio through Del Rio and on to Eagle Pass.
Flood hazard areas, where people need flood insurance the most, are located in regions where entire communities face a similar risk. When an entire region is at risk, private insurance becomes so expensive that few people can or will buy coverage. The NFIP was created to identify these areas and help make flood insurance affordable through subsidies.
Recent catastrophic events, like an influx in hurricanes, have nearly bankrupted the NFIP. In addition, the NFIP is threatened by both an increase in property values and an increase in the number of people seeking coverage. Unfortunately, the NFIP program as originally designed no longer makes financial sense for either property owners or taxpayers.
A law, passed in 2012, to make the NFIP more financially secure also dramatically increases costs of flood insurance for people located in high risk areas. Although the new rates would, in theory, more accurately reflect the risk of flooding; those high rates would cause a serious burden on communities where flood insurance is needed the most.
Further, when the price of flood insurance goes up, people drop their private insurance and instead rely only on disaster assistance from federal, state or local governments.
Flood maps are another issue. Many flood maps become outdated or inaccurate when construction occurs or natural changes in flood-control structures, like dams or levees, take place.
Without accurate flood maps, flood risks cannot be accurately assessed, putting communities at a risk.
Congress must find the delicate balance between the financial viability of the NFIP program and providing comprehensive coverage for communities in high flood areas. Proactively protecting our communities from natural disasters is important. Any legislation passed should consider all alternatives and consequences before flood insurance premiums are raised.
In short, we have a flood insurance problem – but we know it and weâ€™re working to solve it. Because itâ€™s important to us all, letâ€™s all make sure Congress does its job on this issue.
U.S. Representative Pete P. Gallego represents the 23rd District of Texas, which includes all or parts of 29 counties in southwest Texas, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso. He serves on the House Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees.