Flood aid: Reforms should address danger of location
Superstorm Sandy's impact on New York City immediately spawned serious consideration of a massive infrastructure project, akin to those in the Netherlands and London, to protect the city from tidal surges.
But all along the nation's long coastlines, basic policy reforms are even more crucial to mitigate future damage.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) expects to receive about 80,000 damage claims under the federal Flood Insurance Program.
That program needs reform. By subsidizing the risk that people take by building along the ocean, the program provides an incentive for development in dangerous places. To reduce the costs of natural disasters, the program should be priced closer to actual risks, which would discourage developing dangerous tracts.
Some progress has been made in that regard. The program gradually will reduce subsidies for flood insurance on vacation homes near oceans. After all, it's one thing to live in a row home along Shamokin Creek; it's another to have a beach-side mansion in New Jersey.
The program has tried some voluntary incentives, with marginal success. It offers flood insurance discounts where municipal governments undertake prescribed precautions against flooding. But because those precautions often included limiting development in flood zones, local governments won't do it. Many of the most heavily damaged areas of the New Jersey coast, for example, have the flood insurance program's highest risk scores because governments declined to implement safety recommendations.
The flood insurance program meets its obligations by borrowing from the Treasury. It already is at $18 billion of its $20 billion cap because of claims filed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Congress should revise the program to reflect actual risks and devise other means to discourage development that clearly lies in harm's way.
In the meantime, Lee last year and Sandy this year remind us that, whether you live near the sea or along Mugser's Run, flood insurance is a worthy investment.