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July 3, 2018

Memo to Congress: Flood insurance is a must | Letter

More than 5 million people in America rely upon the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, including 480,000 in Louisiana. And once again, the NFIP is facing a critical deadline. Without congressional action by July 31, the program will lapse, stalling tens of thousands of home closings and risking the recoveries of those who suffer floods.

Such a lapse in authorization as we enter the height of hurricane season — and the beginning of Congress’ August recess — would be unwise, and yet, is avoidable.

Fortunately, Louisiana’s congressional delegation has led the charge for reauthorization, while also advocating for smart reforms that provide stability to the policyholder and the program. We thank them for their efforts and urge them to continue their important work on reauthorization.

While renewing the NFIP without delay seems obvious to those of us from Louisiana and other areas that have experienced flooding, some inaccurate narratives have taken hold and delayed progress. One of these is that NFIP is widely abused by “rich people for their beach homes.” The reality is quite different: 98.5 percent of all NFIP policies are in parishes or counties with a median household income below $100,000, and 62 percent of all NFIP policies are in parishes or counties with a median household income below the national average of $53,889.

The fact is, living near water is an economic necessity. The commerce, recreation and national defense that happen by their nature at the water’s edge are activities that benefit the entire nation. Why did Thomas Jefferson purchase one-third of modern America from France in 1803? To secure the economy and defense of New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The other 800,000 acres were lagniappe! Today, more than 50 percent of the country’s population and jobs are along the coast and waterways.

It is also important to note that FEMA has begun to take steps that will meet many of the goals of GNO Inc.’s Coalition for Sustainable Flood Insurance: ensuring affordability, improving communication of risk, enhancing mitigation opportunities and increasing program participation. FEMA recently released an affordability framework, which gives Congress a menu of options to choose from when considering how to address affordability challenges. This affordability study was something the coalition advocated for extensively.

FEMA also recently announced “moonshot goals” of doubling coverage and quadrupling mitigation investment by 2023. If achieved, not only will property owners be more resilient and able to recover more quickly, exposure to the taxpayer will be reduced. These efforts should begin to address the concerns of members of Congress who believe the NFIP places too big of a burden on the taxpayer.

The NFIP has long enjoyed broad, bipartisan support, and this reauthorization should be no different. As Congress continues to consider important reforms to the NFIP, we urge Congress to reauthorize the NFIP before July 31 without a lapse.

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