Harvey cleanup: Only 1 in 6 have flood insurance

Reporting by Mike Emanuel

The grim reality is many of Hurricane Harvey’s storm victims do not have flood insurance and soon they must decide if they’ll try to rebuild, or if it’s time to go elsewhere.

FEMA is trying to point all displaced families in the right direction, advising those with insurance to activate their national flood insurance policies, but for those without the Small Business Administration offers loans to homeowners and renters with 1.75% interest rate--more affordable than banks or credit cards.

For many, that loan would be on top of a mortgage, which may be difficult for many residents to juggle.

For those with insurance, people who default with rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey warn it has been a very frustrating process.

“It’s a nightmare,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said during a recent interview. “And it’s one of the worst run programs in America, the National Flood Insurance Program.”

That flood insurance program is $25 billion in debt after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012. It has less than $2 billion cash on hand with only $6 billion in borrowing capacity as it prepares for Hurricane Harvey recovery.

Congress must act to reauthorize it by October 1st, and some lawmakers are saying it’s time to fix flood insurance by creating a reserve fund for these kinds of disasters.

“We should look over the horizon and say how do you make this program work,” said Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI). “We have properties that will flood multiple times, and when your property floods, you get mold in your house, let’s help people get out of those homes and into a different house that is actually safe and secure for them.”

Republican congressional leaders are considering putting some Harvey relief, government funding, and the debt ceiling all in one package.

“We obviously have now the hurricane spending which is an issue so that’s going to have some impact on our September spending but more importantly, we’re going have to go to Congress to get authorization to spend more,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

In Texas this week, President Trump expressed a sense of urgency, saying “There’s never been anything so historic in terms of damage and in terms of ferocity as what we’ve witnessed with Harvey.”

There are only 12 legislative days in September that the House and Senate are both due to be in session so that would suggest a mega bill would seem likely. Plus, the Harvey components would make it much more difficult for lawmakers to vote no.