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Congressman Duffy seeks reform to national flood program

Danielle Kaeding

Wisconsin Public Radio

Thousands of people affected by flooding from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma are looking to the federal government for help to rebuild. One northern Wisconsin congressman is pushing to reform a program that aids those flood victims.

The National Flood Insurance Program was created in 1968 after private insurers realized it was too costly to cover people living in areas at risk of flooding. The program is now $24.6 billion in debt after paying out losses from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, according to a report released this month by the Congressional Budget Office.

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wisconsin, said the program needs to be reformed. He said it encourages people to live in dangerous areas.

"When disasters hit, not only are their lives put in peril, but then we also have first responders who risk their own lives to save people who the government has subsidized to live in these dangerous places," he said.

The CBO report analyzed about 5 million policies under the program through August 2016. The program is projected to have a budget shortfall of $1.4 billion due, in part, to it paying out more in losses than it's bringing in from premiums. Duffy said the program should offer incentives for people to move out of floodplains.

"When it’s in the benefit of the program … we want to commit and make an offer to buy their house. Now, if they don’t want to sell their house, they don’t have to. We’re not in the business of forcing people to sell," he said. "But, if we get to paying for … the value of your home twice — 200 percent — we would tell folks, 'Listen, you don’t have to sell, but you have to get a policy in the private market.'"

The program had exhausted its resources before authorization for funding was set to expire Saturday, Sept. 30. However, funding for the program has been reauthorized until December as part of a continuing resolution to keep the government running. Around 22,000 communities across the nation take part in the national flood program.

Duffy and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, say Congress needs to take action soon to make the program more sustainable. The two are suggesting reforms that would include updating flood maps to accurately assess areas at risk of flooding, issue surcharges on policies for the program, and only subsidize flood insurance for people who can’t afford it. 

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