America’s Flood Insurance Program Is Utterly Broken, Again
In the wake of the unprecedented hurricanes that have slammed the Caribbean, Gulf, and southeast US, a litany of grim stats have begun to emerge that show the scale of their destruction. Tens of thousands of damaged cars litter the Houston area. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, at least 190 schools in Harvey’s path have been damaged, displacing more than 15,000 students. In Florida alone, 6.2 million people were without power Sunday night.
But some are worried about a slightly hidden statistic: The number of properties covered by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) hit by Harvey and Irma. Beyond the physical damage, the hurricanes may prompt a long-delayed showdown in Congress over one of the country’s most important but most dysfunctional tools for responding to disasters.
According to Pew Charitable Trust’s Flood-Prepared Communities program, Florida and Texas alone account for 57 percent of the US’s 5 million NFIP policies. Close to 1 million policyholders were in these states’ main disaster zones. Combined with policies in other affected regions—including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, and the US Virgin Islands—at least a quarter of all NFIP-covered properties in the nation could conceivably file a claim in the coming weeks and months.
“It’s too soon to tell what the impact from a financial perspective will be,” said Pew flood policy expert Laura Lightbody. But recent precedents suggest these claims will outstrip the NFIP’s funds. That’s bad. The question is whether Congress will fix that problem.