Flood insurance for more than 7,000 Idaho homeowners will soon dry up if Congress fails to fix the broken federal program responsible for paying their claims.

The National Flood Insurance Program, which provides flood coverage to more than 5 million policyholders nationwide, is billions of dollars in debt to U.S. taxpayers and struggling to remain viable. The FEMA-run program is in desperate need of reform, and the deadline is rapidly approaching for Congress to renew the program before it expires on Dec. 8.

The House of Representatives recently improved the NFIP’s chances for long-term success by passing a legislative package that would reform and reauthorize the program, and now it is the Senate’s turn to follow suit. Importantly, the House bill includes a bipartisan measure that would level the playing field for private flood insurers by clarifying that private policies can be used to meet flood insurance purchase requirements for those living in flood zones, instead of requiring homeowners to use the one-size-fits-all NFIP. More competition in the flood insurance marketplace would result in better rates and higher coverage limits for Idaho policyholders, making rebuilding easier the next time a severe storm hits the state. It would also shift risk off the federal government, which will help stabilize the flood program and reduce the burden on taxpayers.

In addition to bringing in more private insurers to the flood insurance marketplace, the Senate should implement several other reforms that will help solidify the NFIP’s long-term success. One of these changes is to ensure that the most accurate risk-assessment tools, as well as modern technology, are being used to update flood maps. This will help lift the burden off property owners for determining their own flood risks and will give more flexibility to the NFIP and private insurers to offer rates that accurately reflect the risk that a property faces.

Enhancing storm mitigation efforts will also go a long way toward making communities more resilient and better able to withstand major storms. Financial assistance should be made available to low-income property owners to assist them with strengthening their property. Offering incentives, such as reduced insurance rates, will also encourage proactive measures that will prevent damage and save lives while reducing recovery costs following a disaster.

Moreover, strengthening infrastructure would ensure that communities are better able to withstand the major storms to come. Studies show that every $1 spent on mitigation efforts leads to $4 in reduced future disaster costs. Taking proactive mitigation efforts would not only save lives, but would prevent costly property damage in the future.

The House has taken steps to implement many of these reforms, but time is running out for the Senate to follow suit. Without action, Idaho may be unable to rebuild and recover when a future flood strikes.

Joshua Saks is the legislative director of the National Wildlife Federation and a member of the SmarterSafer.org coalition.

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