IT’S no surprise that it can be very expensive to live near the ocean. But it may come as a surprise to American taxpayers that they are on the hook for at least $527 billion of vulnerable assets in the nation’s coastal flood plains. Those homes and businesses are insured by the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program.
You read that right: $527 billion, which is just a portion of the program’s overall liability of $1.25 trillion, second only to Social Security in the liabilities on the government’s ledgers last year, according to government data.
The flood insurance program was created by Congress in 1968 to fill a void: because of the risk, few carriers provided flood insurance. Now, private insurers offer flood insurance in a partnership with the government — but taxpayers shoulder all the risk. It has turned out to be a bad bet. The program is $18 billion in debt, a sum the government acknowledges probably will never be paid back by premiums, and it is likely to need a new multibillion-dollar infusion to pay claims from Hurricane Sandy. It is long past time for the government to stop subsidizing home and business owners who live and build in dangerous flood zones.
Homeowners and businesses should be responsible for purchasing their own flood insurance on the private market, if they can find it. If they can’t, then the market is telling them that where they live is too dangerous. If they choose to live in harm’s way, they should bear the cost of that risk — not the taxpayers. Government’s primary role is ensuring the safety of its citizens, so the government’s subsidizing of risky behavior is completely backward.