Under Water Again

In 2019, about 14 million people were directly impacted by flooding, which can have catastrophic consequences for communities. Flooding causes hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage each year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps relieve some of the private monetary burden during massive flood events through programs like the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Under this program, individuals, businesses, and renters can get flood insurance at affordable rates. When a claim is made, US taxpayers help bail out those who have suffered damage.

But does it make sense for NFIP to fund the reconstruction of homes or businesses that repeatedly flood? No, it does not.

Unfortunately, certain homeowners take advantage of the current system, using taxpayer dollars to repair or rebuild second homes or vacation homes despite a history of repeat flooding. Last year, residents in Savannah and other Tennessee cities took thousands of dollars in federal money to fix everything as it was before. A year later, the water is rising again.

In Tennessee alone, there are almost 5,000 properties that have experienced severe repetitive loss, meaning they have experienced over $5,000 in damage multiple times in the last 10 years. Some of these cases are legitimate in that the property owner cannot afford to relocate, but in other cases, people who live in big cities with lakeside or riverside property are glad to take federal money to rebuild.

This wasteful cycle of pouring taxpayer money into repeatedly flooded properties is happening across the US. According to FEMA, repeatedly flooded properties represent only one percent of properties covered, but a whopping 30 percent of overall NFIP claims. From 1978 – 2018, repeatedly flooded properties claimed over $12 billion in taxpayer money. No wonder the NFIP is $20.5 billion in debt.

For years, nonprofit groups like Natural Resources Defense Council and Mississippi River Collaborative have been trying to reform NFIP. That’s why I was glad to hear about a piece of legislation by Congressman David Kustoff, who represents parts of Memphis and West Tennessee, where Mississippi River flooding broke a 1927 record to become the worst in history.

Kustoff’s bill, the Repeatedly Flooded Communities Preparation Act, would improve protections for communities throughout Tennessee that are prone to flooding. Communities with a disproportionate number of repeatedly flooded properties would be incentivized to submit flood prevention plans to FEMA, determine appropriate sanctions for vacation homeowners who fail to act, and report back to Congress on their progress of implementation every two years.

This bipartisan legislation is a common-sense solution to an all-too-common problem. Rep. Kustoff understands that when we continue to bail out vacation homes that we know will flood again, we all lose.

We cannot control the rain, but we can take action to avoid wasting taxpayer money on areas we know will flood again and again.

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