Congress has passed a short-term extension of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), giving lawmakers more time to reach a consensus on needed reforms. Although the extension through November is not ideal, a lapse in the program would have been completely reckless, leaving millions of Americans uncertain about their flood insurance protections.
NFIP Marks 50th Anniversary
A flood insurance policy is crucial for Americans in coastal or low-lying areas. As we saw with last year’s devastating hurricane season, major storms can swiftly bring rains and flooding not seen in hundreds of years. With six major hurricanes, last year’s season was the most expensive in our nation’s history, exceeding $200 billion in damages.
For many Americans in flood-prone areas, flood insurance can be purchased only through NFIP. In fact, the lack of flood insurance policies in the private market was the reason why the federal program was first created. In 1965, Gulf Coast communities were reeling from the extensive harm done by Hurricane Betsy, and homeowners did not have insurance policies to alleviate those losses. By 1968, Congress had officially created NFIP, and the program has helped protect Americans ever since. More than 20,000 communities along our nation’s coastlines, rivers, and inland waterways participate, including 329 communities in Mississippi.
NFIP Communities Are
NFIP’s participating communities and their residents are major benefactors to our nation’s economic prosperity. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), our coastal counties are home to 56 million jobs and generate $8 trillion in goods and services. Another economic engine, the Mississippi River, produces $400 billion in revenues. Cultivating a more suitable NFIP over the long-term would ensure that these communities can continue to thrive without being ruined by the next disaster.
Reforms to Provide Better Storm Information, Accurate Maps
The past 41 reauthorizations of NFIP have rarely included reforms, making the task over the next few months a challenging one. But too much is at stake not to seize this opportunity. Reforming the program is key to keeping it solvent and improving its service to the public.
I have introduced two legislative proposals to help make NFIP work better. The first would seek to improve the accuracy of property loss assessments after severe storms like Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina, homeowners were often caught in the middle of disagreements over whether the damage to their property was caused by wind or water. My “COASTAL Implementation Act” would improve NOAA’s ability to understand the dynamics of a storm, helping to pinpoint the strength of wind and water at affected sites and reducing NFIP’s costs.
My second proposal deals with gathering better data, specifically when it comes to the creation of comprehensive and accurate flood maps. These maps are essential to NFIP, which uses them to identify areas with the greatest flood hazards. I call this bill the “MEMA Act,” which is short for “Municipality Empowerment Mapping Achievement.” It would update NFIP’s rate maps for the entire United States and make them more accessible to the public.
Try as we might, we cannot prevent floods. We can work to guard against them, but we cannot eliminate them. They are the most frequent natural disaster, and we should do what we can to mitigate the costs and damage. Ensuring Americans can still rely on NFIP for disaster protection is key to this preparation. DBJ
Roger Wicker is Mississippi’s senior United States Senator.