If there is one thing that 2017 has taught us, it’s that uncertainty is certain. From international dealings to domestic policy, no time has been as uncertain as now. There’s no exception when talking about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
Already in 2017, the National Flood Insurance Program has seen two short-term extensions. With the NFIP expiration set for Sept. 30, Congress pushed the NFIP expiration to Dec. 8, tying it to the federal budget continuing resolution. Only one day before the Dec. 8 deadline, Congress extended the NFIP for only two weeks to Dec. 22, again tying the program to a continuing resolution.
To those that say Congress will never let the flood program lapse, we only have to look back to 2008-2011 when the program lapsed several times. What happens during a lapse? No new policies can be written and no expiring policies can be renewed. And while claims will be paid to policies in good standing, if there was a disaster like Hurricane Harvey during a lapse, all bets are off. The flood program in America does more than insure properties. It offers flood maps that show flood risk and flood mitigation grants to elevate or remove risk prone structures. Through good floodplain management, it is estimated the NFIP saves the country over 2 billion dollars in avoided losses annually. All of this grinds to a halt with no unified national flood program.
This year was billed as a major year for positive flood reform. The 5-year-old Biggert-Water and Grimm-Water bills were expiring on Sept. 30, and stakeholders from all over the country began to craft a better, more responsible flood program. However, as we look back through the year, many of those ideas fell on deaf ears as Congress dragged their feet. In March, the House Financial Services Committee started holding flood reform hearings. Congress questioned those testifying about “mandatory purchase enforcement” issues, or “grandfathering benefiting only the rich.” While many articles could be written on each issue, the point was missed. Stakeholders were calling for a comprehensive reform, with the inclusion of a public-private partnership, more money to fix flood prone structures, and other creative ideas to truly shore up the NFIP and create a future of certainty for flood policy in the United States. Congress missed the point.
In June, the House released its “21st Century Flood Reform” bill. The bill passed through committee with little input by the minority party. No matter where your political spectrum may be, this set the legislation up for failure. Meanwhile the Senate showed great hope, with three major bills that included many “major” reform points with bipartisanship support. However, by the time August rolled around, there was no flood activity in either the House or the Senate. Congress went on summer break, the worst hurricane season in 12 years hit and the can was kicked down the road. And while the House has passed the “21st Century Flood Reform” in November, the Senate has yet to move on flood reform.
Our message to Congress is clear. Give our communities flood insurance certainty. If Congress cannot provide long term reauthorization prior to the Dec. 22 expiration, it should facilitate a short term, three-month extension that enables a comprehensive reauthorization to be done. The goal should be a meaningful long term reauthorization in the first quarter of 2018. There’s debate on exactly what flood reform looks like. With so many good ideas, our discussions should be broad and extensive. But short term extensions with no real comprehensive reform simply kicks the can further down the road. Over 22,000 communities participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, and millions of Americans depend on the products the NFIP offers. It’s time Congress moves forward on long-term flood reform to give us certainty.
Joe Rossi is a flood specialist with South Dennis, Massachusetts-based Rogers & Gray Insurance. He is also chairman of the Massachusetts and Marshfield Coastal Coalitions and sits on the board of directors of the National Flood Determination Association.