A powerful hurricane is bearing down on the East Coast and a storm is churning away in the Gulf of Mexico.

Even as hurricane season has once again hit full stride, though, the U.S. Congress has failed to take any substantive action to reform and protect the National Flood Insurance Program.

The FEMA-administered program, the only way most people can secure any flood insurance, is saddled with debt because of high payouts after past storms and a failure to make sure property owners who are required to have coverage actually do so.

The future of the program for years has been bleak as it simply went from one short-term extension to the next. With much of the criticism at the national level focused on the program’s debt, it is difficult for some congressional leaders to make the case for necessary reforms that will keep it viable without making it unaffordable for the many people who rely on it.

As has long been the case, several basic reforms would stabilize the insurance program’s financial picture and allow the property owners who use it some peace of mind.

Congress could make the banks and mortgage companies that write federally backed loans do more to ensure that property required to be covered by flood insurance actually is. Doing so would dramatically increase the number of policy holders, which in turn would increase the amount of money going into the program in the form of premiums.

Federal lawmakers also could decrease the generous payments it gives out to insurance companies that write flood insurance policies but that carry none of the financial risk involved in that coverage.

Long-term approaches include various changes in strategy, things like placing more emphasis on moving people out of flood-prone areas and doing more to limit flood vulnerability. And those are worth exploring as well.

But the two fundamental reforms that would make the most difference immediately seem simple and noncontroversial.

It is easy to imagine that people who live far away from the coast might lack an understanding of how vulnerable we are to flooding and how important the insurance program is.

But flood insurance does not have to require the kind of government subsidies that it currently receives.

There are better ways for the program to conduct its business for its long-term existence. Congress owes it to the people who use flood insurance to fix it for good.

And if anyone needed a reminder, several lurk just off our coastlines.


Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.