Insurance Industry Responds to House Approval of NFIP Renewal

Insurance industry trade groups lauded the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote on Nov. 14, reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The 21st Century Flood Reform Act (H.R. 2874) would reauthorize the program for five years and enact operational changes. Advocates from RIMS, the risk management society, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, and SmarterSafer.org also asked that the Senate waste no time in passing its version of the measure before its expiration on Dec. 8.

On Sept. 8, President Trump signed legislation passed by both houses to extend NFIP authorization until Dec. 8, which previously had been set to expire Sept. 30.

Dow Jones reports that the act’s reforms include:

  • Authorizing $1 billion to elevate, buy out or mitigate high-risk properties
  • Capping flood insurance premiums at $10,000 per year for homeowners
  • Removing hurdles to the private flood insurance market, which often offers better coverage at lower cost than the NFIP
  • Providing for community flood maps and a homeowner’s ability to appeal their flood designation
  • Better aligning NFIP rates to match a property’s true risk, particularly for in-land and lower-value properties
  • Improving the claims process for flood victims
  • Addressing repeatedly flooded properties, which account for 2% of NFIP policies but 25% of claim payments

While it applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for deciding to reauthorize the NFIP, RIMS, the risk management society, also urged the Senate to quickly follow-up before the program’s Dec. 8 expiration. Allowing the NFIP to expire would have “significant repercussions, impacting both corporate and residential property owners,” said RIMS Vice President Robert Cartwright Jr.

“Nearly five million American consumers rely on the NFIP to protect their homes, properties, and businesses,” said Nat Wienecke, senior vice president of federal government relations at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “A long-term reauthorization is needed to provide consumers and markets with reliability and stability when it comes to flood insurance coverage.”

SmarterSafer.org, a coalition of taxpayer advocates, environmental groups, insurance interests, housing organizations and mitigation advocates, said in a statement that this year’s “historic hurricane season has pushed the nation’s debt-ridden flood insurance program past the point of bankruptcy once again, so we applaud the House for passing a legislative package that reforms the NFIP to ensure the program is financially sustainable for the future.” The organization also lauded the House for investing in recommended measures including “mapping and mitigation, addressing affordability and providing consumer choice in the flood insurance marketplace.”

The NFIP was created more than 50 years ago to provide affordable flood insurance as private insurers pulled out of the market. The program’s large debt led Congress to cancel $16 billion of its debt last month. NFIP now has about $6 billion to pay claims and $10 billion left that it can borrow from the Treasury Department, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the program.

RIMS Legislative Summit 2017: Focus on Flood

WASHINGTON—The RIMS Legislative Summit kicked off on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. with a panel lead by Congressional office staff.

Panelists included: Democratic Staff in the U.S. House of Representatives; Jason Tuber, Senior Advisor to Senator Menendez (D-NJ); Ed Skala, Deputy Staff Director for the House Financial Services Committee; and Brandon Beall, Professional Staff Member, Office of Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; as well as Lisa Peto, chief counsel for the Financial Services Committee.

The focus was the once-again looming expiration of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The program that was set to expire in September, but was saved with a temporary extension now set to expire again on Dec. 8.

The panelists, each of whom began with the disclaimer that these were their opinions and not the opinions of their office, came to a consensus that a new NFIP was critical, that a gap in coverage is certainly not ideal and they acknowledged that their offices were working on a bi-partisan resolution.

Some of the major concerns discussed were:

  • Funding—who will fund the NFIP? If the NFIP expires or ceases to exist would the burden fall on the taxpayer and then ultimately on government anyway? Should excess flood coverage be privatized? There was also discussion on whether mandating states to offer certain protections for flood exposure would help the situation.
  • Accessibility and Affordability—what measures must be included in the new bill to not only make sure flood insurance is available but that it is available at an affordable price?
  • Residential vs. Commercial—The idea was discussed as to whether there should ultimately be two versions of the NFIP that separate residential and small businesses from large commercial businesses. It was noted that large commercial businesses might have flood coverage elsewhere or are better funded to retain some risk and, as such, should have the opportunity to opt out. This would spur new challenges to determine what qualifies a business as small or large (i.e., an online enterprise that generates considerable revenue but operates out of someone’s basement).
  • Risk Mitigation—Should risk mitigation be a part of the final bill? Incentives for both the insurer and the insured would support organizations that practice good risk management. The argument was made, however, that not all residents and not all businesses have the funds for risk management. For example, not everyone has the money in the bank to raise the height of a house or storefront.

Jim McIntyre, RIMS Washington, D.C. counsel and chair of McIntyre & Lemon stated, “It is probable that we’re looking at another extension come December. Unfortunately for the National Flood Insurance Program, bills regarding trade, healthcare and immigration will take precedent at the moment and [the NFIP] might have to wait a bit longer.”

On Day two of the summit, about 50 RIMS members descended on Capitol Hill for meetings with congressional leaders. The goal was to share RIMS priorities for a long-term National Flood Insurance Program.

Beware of Fire Ants During Hurricane Cleanup

While Texas, Florida and other states dry out from the trillions of gallons of water dumped by Hurricanes Harvey and Irene, there is much to be done and many hazards to watch out for when clearing trees and removing soggy remains from homes and offices.

While cleaning up outdoors, people should keep in mind that many animals are also displaced. These include 20 species of snakes (in Texas), alligators, deer and raccoons, according to the Washington Post.

What they may not be on the lookout for, however, are floating rafts of fire ants, which have a painful, itchy sting, Smithsonian reported. The ants, which send some 25,000 people to the hospital each year, can be found in a number of states, including Texas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and California. They have a way of coping with large amounts of water by clinging to each other and forming floating rafts that can contain 500,000 or more fire ants.
Photo: ScienceNews

These rafts are actually floating colonies protecting the queen, which is in the middle. They can survive for weeks until they find a dry surface—any dry surface.

According to Popular Science:

Normal ants bite and then spray acid on the new wound, but fire ants are much worse. They bite, hold on, and inject a venom containing 46 different proteins, including poisons that sometimes affect the nervous system. They also have a more brutal attack pattern than many social insects. If you knock over a beehive, not all the bees will come after you—most colonies have a few dedicated warriors to protect the clan. When fire ants are disturbed, however, they all attack. About one in every hundred people will have a full-body response to the stings, such as an allergic reaction or even hallucinations.

As Eric Chaney at the Weather Channel warns, the ants can remain a problem even after the floodwaters recede and it is easy to accidently happen upon them, hunkered down amidst debris piles. According to the Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project, “Laundry piles are convenient places that present lots of tunnels for the ants. They may be attracted to moisture or food residue or oils on soiled clothing. Often, reports of ants in laundry occur following a flood.”

Those venturing into flood waters are advised to wear rubber boots, cuffed gloves and protective rain gear to keep ants off their skin. Popular Science recommends spraying ant rafts with their kryptonite—soapy water—which can cause them to sink.

Harvey Losses Could Reach $90 Billion

With weeks to go before floodwaters recede in some parts of Texas, Hurricane Harvey—which delivered more than three feet of rain in areas of Houston—has so far caused at least 38 deaths and numerous injuries. Harvey was downgraded to a storm Wednesday night, but tens of thousands of people are still in shelters, some of which are also flooded, fearful of what they will find when they return to their homes.

“Hurricane Harvey has already broken all U.S. records for tropical cyclone-driven extreme rainfall, with observed cumulative amounts of 51 inches,” Michael Young, RMS head of Americas climate risk modeling said in a statement.

Joel N. Myers, founder, president and chairman of AccuWeather declared Hurricane Harvey to be, “The costliest and worst natural disaster in American history. AccuWeather has raised its estimate of the impact to the nation’s gross national product to $190 billion or a full one percent, which exceeds totals of economic impact of Katrina and Sandy combined.”

Damage assessments are climbing, with modeling and analytics firm RMS now estimating that losses incurred by wind, storm surge and inland flooding could be as high as $70 billion-$90 billion. The majority of losses are coming from inland flooding in the Houston metropolitan area, where more than seven million properties top $1.5 trillion in value. RMS said the estimate includes damage to all residential, commercial, industrial and automotive risks in the area, as well as possible inflation from an area-wide demand surge.

According to RMS:

Most losses will be uninsured, given that private flood insurance is limited. However, although the insured losses will remain uncertain for some time they will be significant, as private coverage is not consistent: there are significant variations in how coverage is provided by individual insurers.

Coverage for some of the residential losses has been provided by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). There are approximately 500,000 NFIP policies that will be affected by Harvey, and the losses to the program will be very significant – potentially the largest event to date. However, NFIP penetration rates are as low as 20% in the Houston area, and thus most of the losses will be uninsured. This will rekindle the public policy debate around this issue.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott estimated that more than $125 billion in federal funding will be required to help the state recover from Hurricane Harvey, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Adding to the area’s woes were two explosions at the Arkema Inc. chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, 20 miles northeast of Houston early on Thursday.

The plant, which produces organic peroxides used in products like kitchen counter tops, polystyrene cups and plates, industrial paints and PVC pipes., was without electric service since Sunday and lost refrigeration when backup generators were flooded. Because the products need to be kept cold to prevent a chemical reaction, workers had moved them from warehouses into diesel-powered refrigerated containers, but those were also flooded.

A sheriff’s deputy was taken to a hospital after inhaling fumes, according to Reuters.

Residents in a 1.5-mile radius of the Arkema plant were evacuated on Tuesday, and water levels there make it too dangerous for workers to assess the situation from the ground, officials added.

Arkema urged people to stay away as the fire burns out. Black smoke was billowing from the site, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said at a televised news briefing.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday it had temporarily barred flights from the area because of the risk of fire or explosion.