Column: Florida deserves reforms to federal flood insurance system

Dennis Ross
Dennis Ross
Published May 14, 2018

Communities across the state are still rebuilding from last year's historic hurricane season. Fortunately, Florida's recovery efforts will soon be bolstered with the help of recently allocated federal funds, but Congress cannot let our country face another hurricane season without addressing the outdated disaster policies that do little to protect lives and property in harm's way. We must start by fixing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The NFIP provides critical flood coverage to more than 1.7 million policyholders in Florida. For nearly a year, the program has been on life support, operating under short-term authorizations, as Congress debates solutions to the program's shortcomings that reasonable minds can agree must be addressed. Last June, the House of Representatives passed a legislative package to reform and reauthorize the program, but due to inaction in the Senate, policyholders are barreling toward hurricane season with an outdated program that does little to protect people in harm's way, the environment and taxpayer dollars. With the NFIP scheduled to expire July 31, the Senate cannot continue to delay advancing much needed reforms to this broken and bankrupt program.

One important aspect of the House-passed bill is a bipartisan measure I introduced with my Florida colleague, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, which would make flood insurance more affordable for a vast majority of Americans by leveling the playing field for private sector competition. In fact, a recent study by Milliman found that 77 percent of Florida homeowners could see their flood insurance premiums reduced if Congress passed this technical correction to the current federal flood law.

Florida residents have already started to experience the benefits of private sector involvement in the state's flood insurance marketplace. Gov. Rick Scott led the effort four years ago by implementing new regulations that simplified the process for private insurers to offer coverage, resulting in a small but growing market of private carriers.

On the federal level, an expanded market would provide much-needed relief for the NFIP by shifting some of the financial burden off of taxpayers and onto the private sector. It would also provide Florida residents with more options, better rates and higher coverage limits. Passing this measure must be a top priority for the Senate as the NFIP's deadline nears.

At the same time, the Senate must require the NFIP to use the most accurate risk assessment tools and technology to update its flood maps, which are meant to identify the areas that are most vulnerable to extreme weather events. Doing so would help communities fully understand their actual flood risk so they can better prepare for future storms.

The NFIP must also do a better job at incentivizing storm mitigation efforts to keep people and property safe from storms. Studies show every $1 put toward mitigation efforts saves the federal government $6 in disaster recovery costs. This change would help lower future disaster costs as well as a policyholder's individual flood insurance rate by reducing their overall risk.

Floridians are counting on Congress to address this issue before the next hurricane hits. We have done our part in the House, and urge the Senate to waste no time and act.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, represents the 15th Congressional District that includes northeast Hillsborough County.