As Harvey floods Texas, Congress due to debate insurance program that’s underwater

MILES O'BRIEN: It will take years to rebuild from Harvey, of course It's too early to know the full extent of the damage, but, as we just heard, a vast majority, about 80 percent, of homeowners in the areas underwater in the Houston area do not have flood insurance

How to help them is sure to be a big political fight back here in Washington Lisa Desjardins is here to explain that and a little bit about the flood insurance program, which is, shall we say, troubled, to say the least LISA DESJARDINS: Right Talk about sort of biblical and strange timing here Let's look at a few key points about this important National Flood Insurance program

First of all, this program expires soon It expires September 30 It is right now, Miles, $24 billion in debt This is the largest flood insurer by a lot in this country Five million Americans get their flood insurance through this federal flood insurance program

And now Congress has to decide how to renew it in just 30 days after this disaster MILES O'BRIEN: So, what is the role for Congress right now? They obviously were under a deadline anyway It seems more urgent now, doesn't it? LISA DESJARDINS: That's right I think that is exactly right I think that there's also a tricky issue here, in that some Republicans want to massively reform this program because of the debt and deficit it's in, while some other Republicans are more concerned about bringing down premiums for those in flood areas, and some Democrats with them

Listen to sound bites from a hearing in June of this year REP JEB HENSARLING (R), Texas: We know this is a program that is 455 billion underwater and runs an actuarial annual deficit of $14 billion It is unsustainable

REP MAXINE WATERS (D), California: I truly believe that this reauthorization can be bipartisan, but I'm concerned that if you do not heed my call to work together on the details of this package, it will cause irreparable harm LISA DESJARDINS: Hensarling, the committee chairman, wants to limit the scope and in fact have more private insurers, but others say that's going to make it unaffordable MILES O'BRIEN: I think we can all agree this is a broken program And we hear these stories time and again about people having severe damage, building, rebuilding, multiple claims time and again on the same location

It sort of sounds like the definition of insanity LISA DESJARDINS: I think that's the really important point about this story Right now, we know that flood areas are increasing on our coastlines Also, cities are becoming more flood-prone because of development Let's look at this map, Miles, about where the most flood insurance is; 80 percent of the National Flood Insurance Program is in those states you see in gray

Those are also the states with the largest congressional delegations The coastal states and, as you say, Miles, a key point, we now know that repetitive losses from flood damage, that's only 1 percent of those who have flood insurance, but, Miles, is 25 to 30 percent of the cost We're seeing homes that are now seeing two, three, times of flood damage within a 10-year period We just heard from that woman in PJ

's piece tonight who said she's been flooded twice in two years So it's a real problem MILES O'BRIEN: So, this is really a program that encourages bad practices, building in the wrong place, doesn't it? LISA DESJARDINS: That's the question And, of course, there's some people who say communities should be here How do we support those communities? Someone has to pay for it

But others say, well, the federal government is taking this risk and encouraging them, and that's a problem long-term There hasn't been a serious debate yet about those issues MILES O'BRIEN: It is going to be an awfully busy September here in Washington, when you consider all the things on the plate, including this one LISA DESJARDINS: I think that's right And here's the trick, is that there may not be time to have the really difficult debates, as we're saying

Another issue with this flood insurance program that lawmakers haven't tackled yet, the maps are out of date And we also know that the maps are changing because the weather patterns are changing This is something they haven't tackled They have to deal with this flood insurance program, along with, oh, government funding, which also runs out September 30 And they have to try and pass a budget, and they're going to try and deal with tax reform

It's quite a lot MILES O'BRIEN: It seems that the climate and the weather is changing faster than the bureaucracy I guess that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, right? LISA DESJARDINS: No Gridlock seems to have more power these days than almost anything in Washington MILES O'BRIEN: All right, Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much for that update

We will be tracking this one very closely And you can track all our coverage of Harvey, including ways you can help That's on our Web site, PBSorg/NewsHour

Source: Youtube

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