Strengthening the National Flood Insurance Program

By Michael Berkowitz, President, and Otis Rolley, Regional Director for North America, 100 Resilient Cities

As Congress takes up the hard work of reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program before it expires in December 2017, 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) is developing a set of policy proposals that provide a framework for cities and their champions to advocate for a collective federal resilience agenda.In creating those broader recommendations, we realized that 100RC should weigh in on the immediate debate around flood insurance because its availability is critical to communities across the United States, and particularly to low-income families. The proposals offered here describe how Congress could create a fiscally sound National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that provides affordable and actuarially responsible flood insurance and promotes proactive city-level actions to reduce flood losses. Our aim is to provide local leaders with timely recommendations to help them advocate for reforms to the program that will better support city efforts to reduce their flood risks. At a later date, 100RC will release broader federal policy recommendations for mayors to use in support of infrastructure, housing, and economic resilience.

Cities in the 100RC network routinely cite flood risk as one of their biggest resilience challenges. Sea-level rise, changing precipitation patterns, increasing urbanization and development, and aging and undersized infrastructure are all contributing to the devastating flood impacts that are more frequently affecting our communities. Cities in the US are seeing more extreme flood events — such as the 1,000 year storm events recently experienced in Nashville and Boulder — and many cities are also facing chronic stresses from nuisance flooding and overflowing stormwater systems that are regularly flooding city streets and homes in places like Miami, Norfolk, the District of Columbia, and Chicago (and many more). The need for affordable flood insurance is not just felt by coastal cities. In fact, Tulsa, Boulder, Chicago, and El Paso join cities like Boston, New York, Miami, and San Francisco in identifying concerns with recurrent flooding. And the impacts of these flood events are increasingly straining city budgets and requiring hefty disaster recovery payouts from the federal government.

The NFIP is an important federal program that helps cities understand and mitigate their flood risks and that provides the financial resources to help property owners and businesses recover in the aftermath of a flood event. Cities rely upon a strong and solvent NFIP to support their physical and economic resilience to flooding. However, the program is also drastically in need of reform: As of July 2017, the program is more than $24 billion in debt; rising insurance rates threaten to price many people out of coverage; outdated floodplain maps fail to adequately reflect changing flood risks; and cities don’t have the funds they need to take actions to mitigate their flood risks.

On behalf of the 100RC, we hope mayors and other local leaders will use the following recommendations to advocate for an improved NFIP that empowers cities to enhance their flood resilience and reduces the economic costs of flooding to the US taxpayer.

Explore our recommendations.