Hurricane Relief: Politics as Usual

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Washington, DC, October 17, 2017 | comments
The most recent hurricane relief package voted on in the House is yet another egregious example of “politics as usual” in Washington DC. I’m referring to the practice of adding bad policy to must pass bills because career politicians know that the add-ons would never pass as standalone legislation.

Most problematic was the recent bill's provision canceling $16 billion of the NFIP's debt without making any reforms whatsoever. NFIP was nearly $25 billion in debt prior to this season's hurricanes and is reported to already have exhausted its current borrowing capacity of $30.4 billion.

As problematic government programs go, the NFIP is a dandy. These days it collects less in premiums and surcharges than it shells out in claims and other expenses, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

Forgiving the program's debts without addressing the issues that created those debts in the first place sets a bad precedent. And remember - when government debt is “forgiven” the amount forgiven is added to our national debt that our children and grandchildren will have to bear the burden for. As Vice-President Pence warned in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina: “Congress must ensure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren.”

The following reforms should have been considered before any debt was forgiven:

  • Congress should gradually move both discounted and grandfathered properties to risk-based rates. For too long, NFIP has subsidized people living in flood-prone areas, which has led to the program's nearly $25 billion in debt - an entirely predictable result. Where necessary, Congress can subsidize low-income homeowners so that they can afford truly risk-based rates.

  • Congress should investigate requiring investments in flood mitigation efforts by homeowners and local/state governments in order to help the most vulnerable properties reduce their risk of flooding as a condition for receiving flood insurance. “Repetitive loss” properties make up around 1 percent of policies but account for 30 percent of payouts.

  • The bipartisan Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act, sponsored by Reps. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., and Kathy Castor, D-Fla., would make a technical correction that would clarify which private flood insurance policies mortgage lenders are able to accept in connection with the federal coverage mandate. While NFIP is the largest provider of flood insurance, private insurers sold more than $400 million in coverage in 2016. The Ross-Castor language would help the private flood insurance market, which would lessen financial stress on NFIP and give consumers more choice in the marketplace.

  • Congress should mandate Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) update its floodplain mapping. By requiring the use of Light Detection Ranging mapping, FEMA can provide more accurate flood maps. With more accurate mapping, homeowners, lenders and taxpayers would better understand the flood risks properties face.

I am supportive of hurricane relief for any U.S. state or territory, but I’m also fighting against “business as usual” in Washington DC.

I’ll guarantee if the bill - that had included in it the bailout for NFIP - had been voted down, a clean hurricane relief bill for Puerto Rico would have been brought forward to vote on within 24 hours, and I would have voted for that clean bill. Business as usual needs to change in our federal government, and it will only change if principled citizen legislators stand up.

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