Roy Wright, the former director of the National Flood Insurance Program, has a point. It’s not at all clear that Congress has the will to make any hard decisions about reforming and stabilizing the program he once headed, one that enables many residents of South Louisiana to stay in their homes.
Speaking at Monday’s conference of the Center for Natural Resource Economics & Policy, Wright noted that lawmakers have passed frequent short-term extensions, all while working toward a big-picture bill that never seems to come to fruition. Congress has passed 10 extensions since the program lapsed two years ago, the most recent of which keeps it alive through the end of May. The House recently passed yet another reprieve until September 30, but the Senate has yet to act.
The last big reform, in 2014, came after a previous reform turned out to have all sorts of unintended consequences for customers. It was, in effect, an emergency fix of the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act, which has become a cautionary tale for those trying to make big changes without understanding the effect they might have on cost to homeowners.
The “Waters” in Biggert-Waters is Maxine, the Democrat who now heads the House Financial Services Committee, and who has vowed to push through a new bill. The committee had been a roadblock until this year, because its former chairman, Republican ex-Rep. Jeb Hensarling, was skeptical of the government subsidies on which the program relies.
In addition to the role of subsidies, other open questions include how to convince more homeowners to buy insurance, how to more accurately assess risk to individual properties, how to attract private companies into a market they have long shunned, and how to discourage environmentally irresponsible development and rebuilding.
Just about every member of the Louisiana delegation has been working on the issue for years now. Based on how it’s gone so far, there’s still lots of work to do.