The tragedy of Hurricane Florence that struck the Carolinas in September has once again highlighted the national struggle against the elements, including the issue of flood insurance for homes and businesses.
Flood insurance remains a fundamental need for coastal regions throughout the nation and in Louisiana. The government provides it because since the heavy losses of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, a major event for New Orleans, the private sector has not been willing to offer flood insurance.
That is the fundamental fact, however much free-market purists want to get the government out of the flood insurance business.
Renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program is once again before Congress, with members of Louisiana’s delegation seeking once again a short-term authorization of NFIP so that the program can be considered in full in the new year.
Louisiana’s stake in this outcome is enormous. Flood insurance coverage is not only good protection for homeowners, but it is essential to getting loans on new construction. When the program lapses, existing policies continue, but new ones are not issued.
Obviously, long-term renewal of the program is preferable, but our senators and representatives must do what they can in chronically deadlocked legislative bodies.
Just as obviously, the properties that have been repeatedly damaged by storms are prominently mentioned as abuses of NFIP, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Louisiana has had the most repeatedly flooded properties over the past 40 years, with 23 percent of the total, according to FEMA records examined by The Associated Press. That includes two single-family homes in Slidell and New Orleans that have each been compensated for flood losses two dozen times.
However, it is important to note that the program has been strengthened in recent years to block NFIP coverage of properties that have been repeatedly flooded. FEMA and other programs work to either elevate properties above flood stage or even relocate some families.
We agree with critics of the program that repetitive-loss properties cannot be given free rides in NFIP. Nor it is a good thing that the program is in the red, although it more than paid for itself for decades since Betsy. That changed with hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with the $16 billion in payouts, principally because of flooding in New Orleans. Last year, the payouts were $10 billion, second-worst on record, because of Hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Maria in Puerto Rico.
With the impact of hurricanes and inland flooding — the AP survey showed repetitive-loss properties in Missouri, for example — doing nothing is not an option. But neither is no insurance for coastal areas where the majority of Americans live and where the private sector is simply not going to offer flood insurance.
NFIP reforms must deal with those fundamentals of life. Alas, hurricanes are part of our experience here in Louisiana and elsewhere long the coastlines of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.