Wicker Proposes Needed Flood Insurance Reforms

Published 7:00 am Thursday, December 7, 2017

By Roger Wicker

The Atlantic hurricane season is officially over.  November 30 marked the end of a particularly devastating season that produced six major hurricanes at a Category 3 level or higher.  The National Hurricane Center has classified 2017 as one of its top seven most active hurricane seasons.

These storms affected millions of Americans, flooding homes and leaving communities in ruin. Hurricane Harvey’s torrential rain over southeast Texas broke historical records.  Our own Gulf Coast communities suffered damaging floods from the storm surge of Hurricane Nate.

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The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is used by some five million Americans who live in coastal or flood-prone areas.  It was created by Congress almost 50 years ago and often serves as the only flood insurance option that Americans have to protect their homes and property.  In recent years, however, major storms like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy have put the program’s long-term sustainability at risk.  Even before Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Irma, and Nate arrived, NFIP had amassed nearly $25 billion in debt.  The program is also nearing a critical deadline.  Congressional reauthorization is needed by December 8.

Keeping Flood Insurance Accessible and Affordable

I have been working on reforms to address NFIP’s financial solvency and future stability.  Thousands of Mississippians depend on the program.  This reauthorization is an opportunity to ensure it continues to make flood insurance coverage accessible and affordable.

I turned to the expertise of local officials, industry leaders, and Mississippians when writing the four bills I have introduced to improve NFIP.  I have also consulted with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Mississippi Insurance Department.  These are policies that can have a major impact on Mississippians’ lives, and I am determined to ensure that they work in the best interest of our homeowners, small business owners, and communities.

NOAA Nominee Affirms Support for ‘COASTAL Act’

One of these bills would build on my “COASTAL Act,” which became law in 2012.  That legislation addresses the disputes that can arise over whether properties have been damaged by wind or water.  Specifically, it requires that scientific data be used by insurance adjusters for making accurate damage assessments.  My new bill would update the “COASTAL Act” and offer technical support to NOAA in an effort to expedite implementation of the law.

I asked President Trump’s nominee for NOAA Administrator, Barry Myers, about the “COASTAL Act” during a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing.  I was glad to hear his support for the law’s implementation.  Accuracy in post-storm assessments is key to providing fair compensation to homeowners and eliminating unnecessary financial burdens on NFIP.

I have also introduced legislation to empower our communities and residents who face flood risks.  One of these legislative measures would enable small businesses and nonprofits with multiple structures to reallocate insurance surcharges toward flood mitigation.  Another proposal would ensure that Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology is used during the flood mapping process, replacing the archaic maps for some communities in Mississippi.  Modernized data can help lower premiums for consumers.  A database allowing this information to be shared among federal agencies, states, municipalities, and private partners can save taxpayer dollars.  Because consumers deserve the most up-to-date information, I have introduced an additional proposal that would promote continuing education opportunities for insurance agents to stay informed on the latest flood data.

I will continue to work with my colleagues on flood insurance reform and hope we can make significant strides soon.  The storms of the 2017 hurricane season have demonstrated the extreme devastation that can be wrought and the need to prepare long before the next disaster hits.