For NFIP, Congress should commit to long-term solutions
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On July 31, Congress passed an 11th hour extension to fund the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for four months – the program’s seventh such short-term extension. Since the extension’s passage, Hurricanes Florence and Michael ravaged the East Coast, leaving unprecedented damage and flooding in their wake.

While advocates and opponents have strong positions on the future of NFIP, we can all agree that continuing to kick the proverbial can down the road is not the desired solution and does little to increase our nation’s resiliency.

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The extension carries the program through Nov. 30, 2018, the unofficial end to this year’s hurricane season. The extension is welcome news for the more than 5 million property owners in flood-prone areas currently insured by the program, as well as to potential new homeowners and real estate brokers whose closings would hang in the balance should NFIP be allowed to lapse.

But short-term fixes only exacerbate the tough conversations standing in the way of long-term, permanent solutions.

The program’s original intent was to provide a government subsidy to make flood insurance more available and affordable while, at the same time, reducing the overall cost to the federal government. Today, we find ourselves with a seemingly unsustainable model that is further challenged by repetitive loss of property.

The truth is, NFIP may never be fully solvent due to the two competing goals driving its existence – regardless of the reforms that are put in place. It’s an important acknowledgement to make, but it certainly doesn’t mean all is lost in this effort. Reforms could focus on driving program adjustments that are more stringent for those who can afford them while preserving options for those in financial hardship or with limited fixed incomes. Increases in pre-disaster mitigation could be targeted to repetitive loss properties as a part of community compliance and in support of FEMA Administrator Brock Long’s aim to create a culture of preparedness. 

There are a multitude of voices present in this current debate who represent many stakeholders, many of whom have laid out specific, well-meaning and practical next steps for Congress to consider. In the end, ultimatums or one-sided approaches will not solve this issue. An approach that addresses the existing and emerging needs of existing homeowners, local municipalities and their regulation of land use, the federal government focusing on graduated reduction of repetitive loss and increased resiliency, and the insurance industry being willing to serve this population within specified margins of both expense and profit should be considered.

What can’t be lost in these negotiations is that reforms should both inform and drive necessary changes to procedures, building codes, and land use decisions on the local, state and federal levels. Providing FEMA, and others, with adequate time to design, train and formalize processes and guidelines will be essential for any legislation that crosses the desk of President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE. To initiate immediate reform on a national scale without a transition and education plan could wreak havoc, cause confusion, and seek to undermine the progress a long-term solution is aiming to accomplish.

When you’re in the business of disaster preparedness, response and recovery, you know all too well that identifying the “ifs” well in advance allows you to better prepare for the “when.” While negotiations around NFIP’s future are certainly ongoing, we can’t continue to leave home and business owners hanging in the balance every few months.

I am hopeful that Congress can negotiate meaningful reforms that stabilize NFIP, establish workable timelines and continue to provide communities with necessary protections to recover from the devastation that floods leave behind. These changes may need to include some level of income testing to determine the level of government subsidy, and relief for those who are financially vulnerable.

A Senior Managing Director for Witt O’Brien’s Public Sector Practice, Mark Misczak brings more than 27 years’ experience leading recovery from our nation’s largest and most complex disasters. Earlier in his career, Mark served as Deputy Director of FEMA’s Individual Assistance program, Chair of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program Board, and the Director of the Office of Cerro Grande Fire claims.