Federal flood insurance policy could feel ripple effects from Harvey

Though Houston’s flooding from Hurricane Harvey reached historic levels of devastation last week, the city has been regularly hit by flooding over the last decade.

With the St. Louis area braving two historic floods of its own over the last two years, many local residents can relate to the ordeal.

Federal officials and other experts don’t foresee the wave of flood insurance claims from Harvey complicating recovery efforts that are still underway for some in the St. Louis region. Instead, any ripple effects from the storm are more likely to come through reshaping national flood policy discussions, starting with the National Flood Insurance Program, set to expire at the end of this month.

Though experts expect the program to be reauthorized and think its allowable debt limit could be expanded, bigger challenges loom. The federal program faces a growing $24 billion deficit and has been steadily losing policyholders for years — even as long-term trends in climate and development make St. Louis, Houston and countless other areas more vulnerable to floods.

Although floods are the country’s most common natural disaster according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a relatively small percentage of properties — only about 5 million nationally — have federal flood insurance, and a far smaller fraction have private flood coverage. Some say not enough people get coverage due in part to FEMA flood maps that fail to accurately convey risk. After recent floods in Missouri, for instance, 26 percent of insurance claims came from areas not considered at high risk of flooding. The agency is required to update the maps every five years.

But rather than extend the program to additional at-risk properties, Congress may be inclined to restrict it, particularly for high-risk properties that have been flooded repeatedly.

Experts said it’s too soon to predict how policymakers may seek to adjust the program, especially in the wake of Harvey.

Read more: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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