Flood Insurance Reform Postponed Until Next Year

The National Flood Insurance Program was established to help communities reduce their vulnerability to flood damage, but in some cases has only made flooding worse. Congress needs to make important reforms to the Program to make it a better tool for communities to protect themselves.

The Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act passed both houses of Congress, and members have postponed negotiations to reconcile the two bills until next year. When Congress takes up the issue again, Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) need to continue to stand strong on the critical reforms they championed that would help alleviate the program’s financial woes and better communicate the true risk of flooding to communities:

  • When the flood insurance program was created, Congress established lower insurance rates to “grandfather” existing homes which were built before any building regulations were enacted. Today, commercial and vacation properties are still taking advantage of these “grandfather” rates in repeatedly flooded areas, meaning taxpayers carry the burden. The Senate bill would phase in market-based insurance rates for those repeatedly flooded properties.
  • Many Americans have no idea that they live behind a levee or below a dam until the structure breaches and flood waters are crashing through their doors. Others falsely believe that owners of dams and levees will always keep them in good repair and people safe from floods. The Senate bill would require FEMA’s maps to indicate areas that would be flooded as a result of a levee or dam failure, informing property owners of the need to purchase flood insurance.
  • This past June, the Midwest experienced its second ‘500 year flood’ in 15 years. Climate change experts tell us to expect more of the same. The Senate bill would mandate that flood maps, which guide planning and development decisions, show not only the traditional ‘100-year flood zone, but also the ‘500-year flood’ zone to help communities better prepare for their actual flood risk.

American Rivers also supports one provision of the House bill–a directive championed by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) for FEMA to use the latest climate science when producing flood maps. This provision is a common-sense solution that will help communities keep development away from potential danger zones.

Local communities and the U.S. government must make important decisions about how best to minimize flood damages in an almost certainly wetter, stormier future. In addition to these changes we must fully fund programs that help people looking to move out of harm’s way to do so. And, we need to protect and restore healthy wetlands, floodplains, and forests that buffer us from storms.

While there is much work yet to be done to improve our nation’s flood policies, the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act is a strong first step.