Amid unseasonably warm weather that has rapidly melted a deep snow pack, and forecasts for substantial rain, state insurance Commissioner Joel Ario quite rightly has reminded Pennsylvanians that their homeowners’ insurance doesn’t cover flood damage. He recommended that they look into buying flood coverage under the federal flood insurance program (www.floodsmart.gov).
The average damage claim for a flood-damaged home in 2009 was more than $33,000, according the flood insurance program. And 25 percent of the damaged properties were in areas that were rated as being low to moderate risks.
In such areas, flood insurance can be purchased for as little as $119 a year. Premiums are higher in higher-risk areas, based on an array of factors including the age of the house, its condition and history.
While it would be wise for homeowners to acquire flood insurance where appropriate, there is little incentive for them to do so, as a practical matter, because the government most often compensates property owners for damages regardless of whether they are insured.
Federal and state governments should switch the call for flood insurance from a suggestion to a mandate. The federal government should borrow a page from the way it establishes uniform national highway safety and speed standards. States that do not comply are denied a percentage of highway funding. Congress should mandate flood insurance in flood-prone areas, and penalize states that do not comply.
Levels of risk for each area of every state are well-documented. States could require proof of flood insurance to be filed along with annual property taxes for those properties.
Such insurance also would have to be a prerequisite for obtaining permits to build or expand in known flood-prone areas, especially along rivers and shorelines.
Mandatory insurance also would relieve taxpayers of the burden of covering the impact of every flood disaster. The concept of insurance is to spread localized but common risks across the broadest possible base. Just as the government requires car insurance of all car owners in order to ensure that adequate funds are on hand to cover the losses of the relatively few who have accidents at a given time, it should require those at risk of floods to cover one another’s backs at a given time.
At-risk homeowners would be wise to heed Mr. Ario’s advice. Lawmakers would be even wiser to give them no choice.