The National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, is $23 billion in debt, and we need to forgive it.
I believe that one of the most important things Congress can do to help homeowners and businesses in flood-prone regions is to erase this debt so that the NFIP remains solvent and affordable. In the wake of the historic flooding in Baton Rouge, and countless other devastating storms, it is critical that Americans are protected financially when disaster strikes.
The NFIP backs most flood insurance policies in the United States, covering more than 5 million households and businesses for a total of over $1 trillion in coverage. For most of its nearly 50-year history, it has been able to pay claims to policyholders without a problem. Then came Hurricane Katrina.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, the NFIP had to borrow $18 billion from the federal government to make sure homeowners — who responsibly maintained flood insurance coverage — had the resources to rebuild. This debt was then compounded by hurricanes Rita and Wilma in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, bringing us to where we are today: a program that is $23 billion underwater.
To build back its reserves, the NFIP has resorted to fee increases that are only exacerbating the unaffordability of flood insurance for policyholders. But even under the most optimistic projections, the NFIP will never be able to repay its debt to the U.S. Treasury. Meanwhile, the NFIP has already spent $3 billion just to cover the interest on the debt, making it more likely that the program will have to borrow again in the future. So while homeowners are struggling to make ends meet, the federal government is spending billions of dollars to lend itself money. Even conservative think tanks like the R Street Institute acknowledge that the debt will never be repaid and that the “repayment” of this debt is nothing more than an accounting gimmick.
That’s why I am calling on Congress to forgive the NFIP’s debt so that as we work to reauthorize the program in 2017, we can start with a clean slate. Democrats and Republicans may disagree on many things, but I believe this is one area that we should all be able to agree on. The program’s current level of debt is entirely unsustainable, and if Congress does not address it, the future of the program is at risk, as are the policyholders that rely on the NFIP and the American taxpayers that fund disaster relief.
The longer that Congress ignores this issue, the longer we will be stuck paying substantial interest on debt that will never be paid back, which in turn thwarts our ability to provide affordable flood insurance across the nation. As Congress continues to review the program ahead of its expiration in September 2017, I hope that common sense will prevail. Let’s forgive the NFIP’s debt and put our nation back on the path to affordability and resiliency.