One year ago, Superstorm Sandy made landfall in the Northeast, causing 72 deaths from Maryland to New Hampshire, along with untold economic losses and damage to more than 650,000 homes.
Sandy proved to be the second-costliest storm in U.S. history; Congress has already appropriated more than $60 billion in relief funds. With the prediction of worse storms ahead, taxpayers everywhere are at risk because of greater exposure in locations across the country, and Congress is doing very little to reverse this trend despite Sandy’s loud and clear wake-up call.
Experts say more natural catastrophes are headed our way, labeling this year’s tame hurricane season as an exception.
An MIT study that was published a few weeks before Sandy came ashore predicted that this century will host more frequent and intense tropical storms than there were in the early 1900s.
The Geneva Association, a leading international think tank for the insurance industry, declared in a recent report that the Florida wind storm insurance market represents one region around the world where circumstances could create a future risk environment that is uninsurable.
With more storms coming, America has a problem. The greater risk of storms and increasingly untenable insurance costs means homeowners will not have the protection they need to recover financially after a natural catastrophe, leaving American families without the means to recover and relying on taxpayers to bail them out. The good news is that there is a better way.
It is time for Congress to develop a sustainable financial system for natural catastrophes — one that prepares for the inevitable storm before it strikes and allows private insurers to offer viable policies in at-risk markets around the country.
Several members of Congress deserve credit for recognizing this need and proposing legislation to address it. Reps. Albio Sires, D-N.J., and Dennis A. Ross, R-Fla., have introduced bills that include public-private programs that will encourage risks to be pooled regionally and the creation of a backstop financed by private insurance company premiums. Several U.S. senators, including Florida Democrat Bill Nelson and California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, have recently sponsored bills designed to reform our current unsustainable federal disaster spending approach. These bipartisan proposals provide a foundation for real reform in natural catastrophe preparation and relief.
Critics suggest that public-private partnerships will put government in the insurance business and encourage development on the coasts.
Such critics ignore that both of those fears are already reality in our current system.
Government is now the de facto insurer of last resort, given the unsustainable growth of state-run insurers. A total of 52 percent of the nation’s population currently resides in coastal counties. That’s 163.8 million Americans living on the coast today that American taxpayers might have to bail out. It makes more sense to establish a national fund financed by private insurance dollars and to enact reasonable land-use policies to address concerns about coastal development.
Despite the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act requiring a report on the state of the insurance market, there is little talk in Congress on what the most effective role for government should be to encourage more affordable and available insurance through the private market and protect taxpayers in advance of the next major storm. A sound and affordable homeowners insurance market is a critical foundation to better preparing for catastrophe in the nation’s most at-risk areas
If current trends are left unaddressed, homeowners in communities across the country will have limited to no options for the insurance needed to protect their property and their financial security.
One year after Sandy, it’s time to fortify our financial infrastructure before the next crisis.
A proactive, public-private partnership involving the insurance industry and the federal government will better protect homeowners, improve national preparedness and provide more responsible stewardship for the taxpayers’ dollars.
Adm. James Loy is senior counselor at The Cohen Group and co-chairman of ProtectingAmerica.org. He’s a former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and deputy secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush.
Corrects characterization of Geneva Association report in fifth paragraph.