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Op - Ed Congressman Zeldin - Hurricanes A Wake-Up Call For Insurance Reform

This Year’s Hurricane Season is Another Wake-up Call for Flood Insurance Reform

Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01)

In all corners of our nation, and many areas in between, tens of millions of Americans live near water, and depend upon the natural resources and bounties which it provides. This especially rings true here in NY-1, where the water is an incredibly important part of our life and culture. However, with this blessing comes the need to protect ourselves against flooding, which has the potential to cause incredible damage to our homes and property. A crucial part of this defense is reforming the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is now over $25 billion in debt. This year’s particularly devastating hurricane season further emphasizes the urgent need for reform, incentivizing mitigation, reducing repetitive loss claims, achieving fiscal solvency and actuarially sound rates, and more timely adjudication of claims, among other ideas. In addition, too many of those affected by flooding are uninsured; we must have expanded coverage for those homeowners, which includes opening up the private market to increase options for coverage. As a member of the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, I have been working hard to reform this program on a bipartisan basis and reauthorize it for the long term. As a Long Islander, this concern is all the more personal.

In June, along Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D, NY-12), I introduced the bipartisan NFIP Policyholder Protection Act (H.R. 2868) to incentivize mitigation activities. This crucial legislation would result in a credit to policyholders who invest in mitigation, such as elevating their homes, adding porous foundations, or moving boilers to the second floor. Time and time again, I have heard from homeowners across NY-1 that, despite having done the right thing and elevated or otherwise mitigated risks to their homes, they have not received a corresponding drop in their flood insurance premiums. My legislation, which was passed out of the House Financial Services committee on a strong bipartisan vote, will ensure those homeowners receive a credit for their actions, in addition to other great benefits for our district. The advantages of flood insurance reform under this legislation will be tremendous for Suffolk County, and I will be working hard to ensure that this bill is passed and signed into law. 

While homeowners should be encouraged to protect their property, we must also realize that some areas are naturally prone to excessive flooding and result in repetitive claims for flood loss. Too many homeowners are opting to live in high risk areas confident they will receive substantial repeated payouts from NFIP. Paying homeowners over and over and over again for flood damage is the quintessential definition of insanity. When the reality is that repeated flood damage is all but certain, we must reform NFIP so homeowners relocate to safer and more stable locations, including buyouts for willing communities and the prevention of overdevelopment along waterfront communities. Reducing repetitive claims is one of many ways to put NFIP on a path towards fiscal solvency and more actuarially sound rates, which is a top priority of Congress’ bipartisan effort to effectively reform this program.

Expanding flood insurance coverage for more Americans is another vital objective. A large amount of those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma did not live in properties covered by flood insurance. The coverage map must be expanded as well as lifting the “non-compete” clause in federal law that severely limits the availability of private flood insurance options. By doing so, we can encourage individuals, families, and business owners to seek appropriate and affordable flood coverage before the next storm, increasing competition and consumer choice while lowering costs.

We must also speed up the timetable for FEMA’s claims processing and better utilize digital technology like GIS to improve the flood mapping process. However, none of these ideas will amount to anything if not actually implemented through a long term reauthorization of the program. NFIP was reauthorized last month, without reforms, as part of a short term punt. The American people deserve immediate action.

Flood insurance is an absolute necessity for millions of Americans, and it is unfortunate that NFIP has been beset with these issues. However, we have a very real chance to make much-needed changes to this program. Increasing mitigation incentives, promoting fiscal solvency and actuarially sound rates, repetitive loss claims reduction, introducing more timely adjudication of claims, and expanding coverage while opening up the private market are all excellent and necessary ideas. Now is the time to make much needed reform. I look forward to pursuing any and all legislative options to make real change a reality.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, member of the House Financial Services Committee, represents the First Congressional District of New York.

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