Marco Rubio column: Congress needs long-term solution for flood insurance program

Can Marco Rubio best Patrick Murphy tonight in their first debate for the U.S. Senate race. [AP Photo | John Raoux]
Can Marco Rubio best Patrick Murphy tonight in their first debate for the U.S. Senate race. [AP Photo | John Raoux]
Published July 17, 2018

If Congress fails to act, the National Flood Insurance Program will expire in two weeks, leaving those with coverage in limbo and forcing delays in real estate transactions. As Floridians continue to recover and rebuild our communities from last year's hurricane, it is paramount that Congress quickly reauthorize the program.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Florida has nearly 1.8 million flood insurance policies in force, and it accounts for more than one-third of policies nationwide. Contrary to what some may think, this program is not a luxury but a necessity for Floridians, who have paid more than their fair share. In fact, Floridians receive just $1 in claims benefits for every $4 paid in premiums.

This program, unfortunately, is far from perfect and in need of reform. Over the past several years, Congress has attempted to address the flaws within the flood insurance program but has not yet been able to effectively reform the program despite its nationwide impact.

From 2005 to 2014, FEMA spent more than $277 billion in disaster aid to rebuild communities after flooding had occurred. However, FEMA only invested $600 million in pre-disaster mitigation programs during that same time span. It is not a hypothetical question to ask whether investing in mitigation is worth the cost. FEMA and many other research groups have repeatedly cited statistics demonstrating that every dollar spent on mitigation results in $4 or more saved. Yet we continue to address devastating flood events by taking a reactionary approach instead of reducing the risks in our flood-prone communities and saving taxpayer money.

After Floridians saw their premiums skyrocket in 2012, we cannot expect to have a solvent flood insurance program if we make it so unaffordable that participants are forced to forego it. The key to sustainability is program participation, and ensuring that Floridians and others nationwide realize the importance of obtaining and maintaining flood insurance coverage.

It is also imperative that Congress allocates resources to provide constituents nationwide with a precise understanding of their flood risk. Modern technology, including LIDAR (a surveying method using light from a laser), has this capability but requires additional support for a mapping program that has not received the investment needed in recent years. FEMA must do a better job, but Congress must also provide it with the tools necessary to carry out its mission.

No matter our policy differences on the best way to reform the program, our top priority must be ensuring it does not lapse for any amount of time. Between 2008 and 2012, there were 14 short-term extensions and five program lapses.

Let us be clear about what a lapse would mean. If the flood insurance program is not reauthorized by July 31, insurance agents participating in the program will be unable to issue new policies. That means Florida's real estate market will be thrown into chaos, as flood insurance is a prerequisite in special flood hazard areas for federally backed mortgage loans. We cannot allow this type of uncertainty in the middle of hurricane season.

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That is why I cosponsored Sen. John Kennedy's amendment to the Senate Farm Bill to provide a six-month National Flood Insurance Program extension, which the Senate passed. Additionally, I will continue to push for a long-term solution to reform the program. In June 2017, I along with a bipartisan group of colleagues, introduced the SAFE NFIP Reauthorization Act of 2017. I believe this legislation represents the best approach to address a complex issue. It would bring stability by reauthorizing the program for six years, while also providing much-needed reforms and directing the program to a path of fiscal solvency.

While I continue to urge my colleagues to join me in support of the SAFE NFIP Act, it is critical that Congress provides a six-month extension of the program before the end of this month to provide Floridians with security during the 2018 hurricane season. We cannot and should not postpone addressing this issue any longer, and my top priority will continue to be ensuring a lapse does not occur. Florida deserves better.

Sen. Marco Rubio is a Florida Republican.