By Steve Pociask
October 5, 2016 at 5:00 am ET
Last week’s presidential debate rightfully focused on how to protect America’s homeland, but failed to mention one of the nation’s most dangerous and growing threats: natural disasters.
Multiple devastating floods have soaked the country at an alarming rate, killing at least 248 Americans since January 2015. With extreme weather events becoming more frequent, expensive and deadly, this challenge will require the next president’s urgent attention.
The nation’s disaster policies are in need of a major overhaul so that they better protect lives, property and taxpayer money.
While the federal government has long pursued policies that focus on post-disaster recovery, a better and more cost-effective approach should address pre-disaster resiliency. The next president should work with Congress to implement a national mitigation strategy that would lessen the impact of future storms and reduce post-disaster recovery costs. This effort would require a multi-pronged approach that reforms disaster assistance rules to incentivize or require better planning and preparedness, while funding cost-effective mitigation tools, including buyouts, elevations and better use of natural features.
The next administration should work with Congress to fully reform the broken and costly National Flood Insurance Program, which provides flood coverage to more than 5 million policyholders but has a $23 billion debt and growing. Structural changes are essential to ensure those at risk can continue to have claims paid, and are essential to protecting American taxpayers, who have been footing the bill for the program’s ever-increasing debts.
With the NFIP up for reauthorization in 2017, it will be the next president’s responsibility to ensure it is financially secure and available to help Americans rebuild after future disasters. Part of the solution is to get private flood insurers back in business and reduce the size of the costly NFIP.
In addition, NFIP needs a number of structural reforms, including better mapping and risk analysis, transparency in rates, and rates that reflect real risk, and additional mitigation assistance. All of this is predicated on more accurate risk assessment tools to update flood maps, in order to better evaluate an individual property’s risk. By working with the private sector, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will relieve property owners from having to shoulder the burden of determining risks while helping private insurers offer rates that accurately reflect the flood danger a property faces.
The Senate can take an important step now by quickly passing the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act – a bill that unanimously passed the House last spring and would level the playing field so that consumers can purchase private flood coverage. More competition would result in additional consumer choice, better rates and higher coverage limits, making rebuilding easier after the next storm strikes.
Both presidential candidates have discussed the need for America to shore up its defenses, but have failed to fully address the growing threat. As the election season enters its final stage, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should study these strategies and discuss them on the campaign trail so that Americans can be confident that their next president has a plan to fortify the nation’s natural disaster defenses for the future.
Steve Pociask is President of the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit educational and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org or follow me on Twitter @ConsumerPal.
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