Feb. 10--Flood insurance reform is again on Congress' agenda, this time in a bill that seeks to rein in the billions of dollars U.S. taxpayers spend to repair houses that flood repeatedly.
Since there are a lot of those around here, Terrebonne and Lafourche stand to be affected.
At its root, the bipartisan measure makes sense. You can read about the details on today's front page, but in gist it would require communities to with lots of of repeat-loss properties to submit flood-prevention plans. So parish councils, in our case, would have to do that if they want their communities to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. The program, administered by FEMA, is the only place most Americans can buy flood insurance, so it amounts to a mandate in a flood-prone community Like ours.
The bill also requires FEMA to establish a system of enforcing the rules and would set up assistance programs for communities that comply.
Reducing the amount spent on homes that repeatedly flood is one way, proponents say, to cut the flood insurance program's debt, now estimated at more than $20 billion, and put it on more solid financial footing in the long-term. Sponsors of the new bill say repetitive-loss properties make up just 1% of those covered by the flood insurance program but result in up to 30% of all claims.
Here's how the R Street Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank based in Washington that has long been involved in the debate over flood-insurance reform, describes the benefits.
"Investing in mitigation is a far more cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars than continuing to pay out claims and extend disaster assistance to the same places over and over again," says R.J. Lehmann, the institute's director of finance, insurance and trade policy, said Friday in a prepared statement. "This legislation takes a carrot-and-stick approach to the problem of repeat flood losses, facilitating access to mitigation funding for communities that take the initiative, with potentially significant financial consequences for those that do not."
As with most such proposals, the devil will be in the details. What kind of special assistance will be given to homeowners who repeatedly flood? Will it be enough for them to elevate their homes? To move to higher ground?
Terrebonne and Lafourche are already ahead of the game in some sense. Both parishes have a long history of using FEMA grants to buy out or elevate hundreds of homes that have flooded repeatedly.
But The Courier and Daily Comet's examination of those programs last year found numerous problems. Families who lose their homes to flooding must wade through arduous paperwork and bureaucracy to qualify and receive the aid, a process that can take years. We found one local family who waited four years from the time it applied to the time it received the grant money. Faced with such a daunting process, some families either choose not to begin or give up midstream. Others can't afford the 25% matching money required to qualify for a grant to elevate their homes.
One of the bill's authors describes it as a "win-win" -- saving taxpayers billions while helping families escape the cycle of flood, rebuild, repeat. A win-win would be great. But residents need assurances that it really is a win for them, one that makes it simpler and more affordable to elevate and flood-proof their homes or move to higher ground.
-- Editorials represent the opinion of this newspaper and not any single individual.
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