Op-Ed

North Carolina needs action on flood insurance reforms

One vehicle lies stranded by the bridge leading into the back side of Crabtree Valley Mall off Crabtree Ave. in Raleigh, NC, on Tuesday morning, April 25, 2017. Heavy rains all day Monday and through the night caused a lot of flooding in the area as creeks and rivers overflowed. The mall was closed Tuesday due to the floods.
One vehicle lies stranded by the bridge leading into the back side of Crabtree Valley Mall off Crabtree Ave. in Raleigh, NC, on Tuesday morning, April 25, 2017. Heavy rains all day Monday and through the night caused a lot of flooding in the area as creeks and rivers overflowed. The mall was closed Tuesday due to the floods. cseward@newsobserver.com

Flood insurance for more than 129,000 home and business owners in North Carolina will soon dry up if Congress fails to fix the broken federal program responsible for paying their claims.

The National Flood Insurance Program, which serves as the first line of defense against flood damage for more than 5 million policyholders nationwide, is $25 billion in debt and struggling to remain viable. The program is in desperate need of reform, and the deadline is rapidly approaching for Congress to renew the program before it expires at the end of September.

Repairing the NFIP is imperative for the thousands of North Carolina policyholders it serves, especially since severe floods like last year’s devastating hurricane are becoming increasingly unpredictable, dangerous and deadly. Thankfully, there are several steps that lawmakers can take to cement the program’s long-term viability and benefit policyholders and taxpayers alike.

Congress should start by creating an opportunity for more private flood insurers to enter the marketplace. Currently, the flood insurance program does not do enough to bolster competition in the marketplace. But doing so will result in lower rates and better coverage for consumers, making rebuilding easier the next time a severe storm hits the state.

The House Financial Services Committee recently took an important step toward achieving this goal by passing a series of bills to reauthorize and reform the program, including bipartisan legislation aimed at providing private insurers an opportunity to enter the flood insurance marketplace. The Flood Insurance Market Parity Act will encourage the development of a private flood insurance market while giving states the right to regulate flood insurance.

In addition to bringing in more private insurers to the flood insurance market, Congress should make other reforms that will help solidify the NFIP’s long-term success.

One of these changes is to ensure that the most accurate risk-assessment tools, as well as modern technology, are being used to update flood maps. This will help lift the burden off of property owners for determining their own flood risks, and will give more flexibility to the NFIP and private insurers to offer rates that accurately reflect the risk that a property faces.

Enhancing storm mitigation efforts will also go a long way toward making communities more resilient and better able to withstand major storms. Financial assistance should be made available to low-income property owners to assist them with strengthening their property. Offering incentives, such as reduced insurance rates, will also encourage proactive measures that will prevent damage and save lives while reducing recovery costs following a disaster.

Moreover, strengthening infrastructure and updating building codes would ensure that communities are better able to withstand the major storms to come. Studies show that every $1 spent on mitigation efforts leads to $4 in reduced future disaster costs. Taking proactive mitigation efforts would not only save lives, but would prevent costly property damage in the future.

Congress is taking steps to make many of these reforms, but is running out of time to pass comprehensive legislation. Without action soon, North Carolina residents may be unable to recover and rebuild following the next natural disaster.

Saks is the legislative director of the National Wildlife Federation and a member of the SmarterSafer coalition. For more information, visit smartersafer.org.

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