Last month, the most catastrophic hurricane in history hit the Texas Coast, and its aftermath destroyed entire communities. Over the past five years, there has been a sharp nine percent drop in flood coverage in Houston, primarily due to the unaffordable state of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Because the Program is financially out-of-reach for so many Americans, far too many of the affected homes in Texas have no financial backup and will be forced to pay out-of-pocket for damages, or worse, be forced to sell.
Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with a devastating flood that took the lives of at least 82 souls — and damaged tens of thousands of homes — according to local officials. This storm caused a once-in-a-lifetime flood, leaving wreckage that will be felt for many years to come.
American taxpayers and policy holders deserve better from us than an unstable and unaffordable flood insurance program. A recent study reported that because the NFIP does not use income to determine eligibility, the current program results in higher income-Americans paying disproportionately less for its benefits.
Created in Congress in 1968, the NFIP serves 5.1 million residential and commercial properties, with the goal of reducing the impact of flooding on private and public structures. Including the impact of Hurricane Harvey, in the last six years, Texas has experienced three out of five of the largest floods, and six out of the 10 most damaging storms in history. Before Hurricane Harvey, the NFIP’s debt was already at $24 billion, and while much of this debt is a result of major weather events, it is clear the current program cannot continue on this path.
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Together, with my colleagues on the House Committee on Financial Services, we have offered multiple legislative concepts that will help reform the program — many of them with broad bipartisan support. These necessary provisions will strengthen taxpayer protections, provide greater private market access, competition, and consumer choice. It will also enhance mitigation efforts, encourage flood mapping fairness, address consumer costs and affordability, and finally, incorporate the NFIP claims processing reforms.
It has been humbling to watch this community build one another back up again. Americans from all over the nation have swarmed the great State of Texas to help out in any way that they can. Because of unforeseen events like this, the federal government needs a program that will work for everyone - not just those who live in Coastal America.
The NFIP desperately needs mending. In order to correct the mistakes of the past, Congress must act now. We need a program that strengthens taxpayer protections, and will remain financially sound for years to come. We must help those who need to rebuild, but mandate they mitigate future risks in order to prevent further damage and loss of your tax dollars.
The present-day authorization expires on September 30, 2017, and homeowners like those in Texas cannot wait — Congress must act now. Our plan is bold, and will help correct the currently flawed system and restore accountability and fairness to you, the taxpayer.
Bottom line, the NFIP does not work for everyone. We need a program that is not a subsidy for the rich, and we need it now. Ultimately, it comes down to the responsibility of Congress to act accordingly by reauthorizing and reforming the National Flood Insurance Program.
Roger Williams is a Republican from Texas and serves on the Financial Services Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the vice chair of the Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade.