The National Flood Insurance Program Isn’t What’s Broken; Congress Is

By Congresswoman Maxine Waters

In the 1950s floods devastated neighborhoods across the United States. In addition to the loss of property and life, private insurance companies suffered huge losses, leading them to stop writing flood insurance policies altogether. Without insurance coverage to help families and businesses pick up the pieces after a storm, the government was left to pick up the tab in the form of federal disaster assistance. By 1968, Congress decided to step in and establish the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which assists property owners with the cost of flood recovery while also easing the burden on taxpayers for the recovery costs within flood zones.

The NFIP makes flood insurance available to millions of homeowners, renters, and business owners and also helps those policyholders to reduce their risk by providing flood mapping, floodplain management, and mitigation services. These activities help local communities and individuals prepare for the financial impact of flooding, whether it is caused by heavy rainfall that affects families living in the Midwest or life-threatening storms that pummel the millions of homes and businesses along the coasts. Despite the benefits the NFIP provides to policyholders and taxpayers, the program is now at risk.

Why? Because Congress is failing to do its job once again. Despite the fact that we have had five years since the last reauthorization of the NFIP in 2012, the NFIP is set to expire within the month and Congress has not passed a credible plan to keep its doors open. With a government shutdown looming, the threat of a default on our nation’s debt on the horizon, and a President who is encouraging chaos by insisting on billions of dollars for a misguided border wall, Congress has not yet passed a bipartisan reauthorization bill that can be signed into law. If Congress cannot come together on responsible legislation, Americans will not have access to federal flood insurance.

Hurricane Harvey caused billions of dollars in damage in Texas and Louisiana. Troublingly, Chairman Hensarling, a member of the Texas delegation, has put forward a controversial reform plan that has not been scheduled for a vote in the House because it would raise premiums, end grandfathering for properties upon submission of their second claim, and do nothing to address the NFIP’s nearly $25 billion debt. In fact, his plan makes matters worse by forcing some NFIP policyholders into the private sector and leaving the NFIP to insure only the riskiest properties.

His plan is dangerous and we know this is more than political rhetoric. When FEMA’s implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act brought with it dramatic premium increases I worked with members on both sides of the aisle to correct those unintended consequences. After months of discussion and collaboration, we came together to enact the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which provided much needed rate relief for struggling policyholders. That legislation, which passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 301–91, restored grandfathering for those who played by the rules by building their homes to the most current codes and standards and provided a glide-path to actuarial soundness.

Flooding is truly a humbling and equalizing force — in the wake of Harvey we’ve seen neighbors rescuing neighbors and strangers helping strangers. We’ve seen the best of America during the worst of times, with everyone putting aside their differences, to come together to help one another in our time of need. Now it’s time for Congress to do the same thing. We must put partisanship and ideology aside and ensure the continued affordability and availability of coverage for millions of Americans. We must renew the NFIP for the long term with a plan that ensures affordable flood insurance continues to be available to communities across our country as the first order of business.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) is Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services.