While some Long Island communities still struggle to rebuild after superstorm Sandy — and Texas deals with the devastation of Hurricane Harvey — federal lawmakers are weighing the future of the National Flood Insurance program.
Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer stood in Long Beach alongside a Sandy victim and called on Congress to renew the program’s funding. It is set to expire Sept. 30 as lawmakers argue whether to privatize or eliminate it five years after Sandy and as Harvey continues to rage.
“To those of us in New York, what we’ve seen of Harvey is a flashback to Sandy,” Schumer (D-NY) said. “We know the devastating power of God, nature and water. Now that the damage is done, the long road to recovery for Texas will begin.”
The program was established in 1968 and covers about 5 million policyholders nationwide, including tens of thousands on Long Island, Schumer said. He said the federal government assumed control of flood insurance because private insurance companies would no longer provide coverage.
“In the midst of this hurricane season, at a time experts are warning New York is facing a higher risk of hurricanes, on Sept. 30, just a month from now, the clock runs out, potentially threatening homeowners and business owners across our area,” Schumer said.
He made his remarks in front of the unfinished home of Long Beach resident Liz Treston, whose home was supposed to be raised above the flood elevation level in May. She said she is still waiting for payments from flood insurance and New York Rising.
“It needs to be reauthorized tomorrow,” Treston said of the program. “In this very active hurricane season. Everyone wants their home protected as fast as possible. If flood insurance had paid us out originally we would not be in this mess we’re in. It’s not just coastal areas that are flooding. Rain is the new hurricane.”
Schumer said the chairman of the House Banking Commitee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), has opposed the flood insurance program in the past and argued the system should be privatized. Hensarling’s office said the committee submitted a plan for a five-year extension of the program to the House in June.
The committee has submitted six potential bills, with different flood insurance provisions, but the House Republican Caucus hasn’t come to a consensus to bring a bill to a vote.
The Senate has also not agreed to a bill to renew the program.
“If you privatize flood insurance, only the wealthy and only homes with complete protection will get it,” Schumer said. “The number who will get protection will decrease and the amount they pay will go way up. Hardly anyone in a community like Long Beach could afford it and they couldn’t sell their homes.”
The NFIP, a 49-year-old Federal Emergency Management program, is also up to $25 billion in debt because it has been a key source for claims related to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, superstorm Sandy in 2012 and other natural disasters.
With Zachary R. Dowdy