January 25, 2024

Brown: Reauthorizing and Strengthening Flood Insurance Protects Communities When Disaster Strikes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, delivered the following opening statement at today’s hearing entitled, “Reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program: Local Perspectives on Challenges and Solutions.”

Sen. Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery follow:

This hearing is a continuation of our efforts to enact a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program or NFIP. The program has been extended 28 times since September of 2017. The latest extension will expire on March 8th of this year.

Today, we will discuss local leaders’ perspectives on the National Flood Insurance Program, and the challenges and potential solutions to the risks that flooding poses to communities across the country.

Local leaders are on the front lines of so many issues: transportation, how expensive housing is, the growing challenge of flooding. Each of these is a priority for this committee.

As these leaders know all too well, flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster facing the country. It’s devastating to families, businesses, and communities in every state.

And unfortunately, the risk is increasing.

Outdated flood maps, population growth in at-risk areas, land use patterns, and over-stretched infrastructure all play a role. 

And whether people want to admit it or not, climate change is only making it worse. It’s making extreme weather events more frequent and less predictable – all across the country.

Just this month:

  • streams overflowed in our colleague Senator Reed’s home state of Rhode Island;
  • torrential rains poured through homes in San Diego neighborhoods represented by Senator Butler; and
  • flash floods have been threatening communities across Louisiana, which is well represented by our colleagues in the room today.   

Flooding isn’t confined to communities on the coasts, or even on major bodies of water. 

As we saw in 2022, the same mountains and streams that make our Appalachian towns beautiful also make family homes and local economies vulnerable to flooding in an era of more extreme rainfall. Often the only available land for development in Appalachia is in or near floodplains.

And disasters often fall hardest on the families and the communities that have fewer resources to prepare and respond to them. Smaller, rural communities often do not have easy access to resources to respond to the immediate effects of disasters, nor do they have access to the resources they need for long-term recovery and to prevent disasters in the first place. 

We need to ensure our families and communities can adapt and become more resilient both to the flooding we face now, and to the increases we know are coming in the next several decades.

And whenever possible, we want to help communities avoid extreme flooding altogether, through pre-disaster flood mitigation.

The NFIP is critical to that effort.

Unlike a private insurance company, the NFIP does not just provide insurance. Its job is to prevent and minimize flood damage in the first place, not just help with recovery.

The NFIP combats the overall threat of flooding through four related components:

  • Flood insurance, currently covering nearly 4.7 million homes and businesses;
  • Floodplain management; 
  • Floodplain mapping; and
  • Mitigation.   

We must reauthorize and strengthen the NFIP, and invest in mitigation and floodplain management before disasters happen in communities. 

In recent hearings, we heard from a wide range of stakeholders who discussed:

  • The need for a long-term reauthorization to help communities and stakeholders plan for the future,
  • The importance of helping communities and property owners understand their risk – by both improving mapping and other risk communications, and through disclosure of flood hazards to prospective owners and tenants, and
  • The importance of building state and local capacity to carry out our floodplain management and mitigation programs, especially for small and rural communities.

We also heard FEMA’s recommendations for strengthening the program, including forgiving the overhang of debt from previous disasters and providing means-tested assistance to help more families afford insurance. 

I am interested in hearing today’s witnesses’ recommendations on how we can help strengthen the NFIP, so that it can help local communities meet their needs.  

I am pleased to welcome Mayor Steve Patterson of the City of Athens, Ohio, here today to discuss some of the unique challenges faced by cities and towns in Appalachian Ohio. 

NFIP is a complex program, with multiple goals and implications for many of the things people care about most – their homes and their communities. 

However, I believe it is possible for us to come together to reauthorize and improve this program.   

Today’s hearing will help inform this effort.

I look forward to working with Ranking Member Scott and the members of the Committee to strengthen the NFIP and the country’s comprehensive approach to mitigating flood risk through a long-term reauthorization bill this Congress.