George Hartwick: Potential loss in assessments from NFIP expiration may be biggest impact to local government revenue generation
As Texas, Louisiana, and now Florida, recover from devastating flooding and the Southeast braces for Hurricane Irma, the importance of reauthorizing and updating the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), due to expire Sept. 30, was made clear Wednesday, Sept. 6, at a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by a coalition led by the National Association of Counties.
“This is an issue that impacts everyone,” Dauphin County, Pa. Commissioner George Hartwick said Wednesday. “There may not be a single larger potential impact to the ability to raise local government revenues than the potential loss in assessments if we don’t get this solution correct.”
NACo hosted “The Future of the National Flood Insurance Program: Helping Communities Prepare and Respond,” along with the National Governors Association (NGA), the National League of Cities (NLC), the Council of State Governments (CSG), the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and the Coalition for Sustainable Flood Insurance.
“It’s very timely that we have this briefing — obviously, our hearts and prayers go out to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey as well as those preparing for Hurricane Irma,” said NACo Executive Director Matt Chase.
The NFIP provides insurance coverage to property owners for damages and losses due to catastrophic flooding. Administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the FEMA, the program aims to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures by providing affordable insurance to property owners, and by encouraging communities to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations.
As Congress works to reauthorize NFIP, it’s important that there is a balance between the sustainability of NFIP and keeping it affordable to taxpayers, Chase said. NACo’s key policies related to the flood insurance program are focused on rates for policy holders, the program’s administration, flood zone mapping and mitigation.
In addition to urging Congress to reauthorize NFIP, Hartwick and three other speakers at the briefing also presented their suggestions for improving the program, including keeping flood insurance affordable, strengthening the federal, state and local partnership before and after disasters, updating flood maps and funding pre-disaster mitigation.
The issue hits home for Hartwick, who recalled the devastating impact that Hurricane Agnes had when it flooded his hometown of Steelton, Pa. in 1972. Hartwick keeps a photo of himself sitting on his father’s shoulders after the storm, all of the homes and businesses underwater in the background except for a steel mill that gave the town its name. In 2011, he also saw firsthand the flooding brought by Tropical Storm Lee, after it dropped more than a foot of rain on the county, claiming six lives and leaving more than $200 million in uninsured losses.
Mitigation, mapping, affordability and program participation are key as Congress reauthorizes the program, said Caitlin Berni, vice president for policy and communications at Greater New Orleans, Inc., who also directs its Coalition for Sustainable Flood Insurance.
Tallahassee, Fla. Mayor Pro-Tempore Gil Ziffer said NLC “is asking Congress to do three things, and I’m adding a fourth.” Ziffer said he hopes to see the flood mapping system updated. “Cities and counties need to be engaged in that, we know how to do that,” he said. “You’ve got to redo mapping.”
Jessica Altman, acting insurance commissioner, Pennsylvania Insurance Department, speaking on behalf of the NAIC, said the group hopes to see strategies aimed at educating consumers about their options when it comes to flood insurance. The NAIC also encourages greater growth in the private flood insurance market as a complement to the NFIP to help provide consumers with more choices, she said.
Jason Tuber, senior advisor to Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), said legislation sponsored by the senator, whose state was devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, was created with the goal of making the program more solvent, affordable and fair. The so-named Sustainable, Affordable, Fair, and Efficient (SAFE) National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 would extend the NFIP for six years.