Federal disaster policy should shift its focus toward mitigation in order to reduce future disaster costs, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies said today, and creating an incentive for states to adopt and enforce strong building codes would be a good first step.
“For decades, Congress has provided insufficient funding for disaster relief and then added funds in the middle of fiscal years,” Robert Detlefsen, Ph.D., vice president of public policy for NAMIC, said today in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Management. “If Congress is serious about reducing the federal deficit, it needs to get serious about helping communities prepare and plan for natural disasters.
“Natural disasters are inevitable,” he continued, “but while budgeting for disaster costs is not a perfect science, there are proven ways the federal government can plan more wisely for them. Merely hoping the weather cooperates and relying on luck are not the ways to establish FEMA’s disaster relief budget.”
Detlefsen testified on behalf of the BuildStrong Coalition, of which NAMIC is a founding member. BuildStrong and NAMIC are among the lead advocates for the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, which provides additional post-disaster grant money to those states that have adopted and enforce a model statewide building code.
“There is overwhelming scientific evidence to support the conclusion that statewide building codes save lives and greatly reduce property damage and the subsequent need for federal disaster aid,” Detlefsen said, noting that a study by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that for every $1 spent to make buildings stronger, the American taxpayer saves $4 in federal disaster assistance. Also, a Milliman study found that had it been in effect, the Safe Building Code Incentive Act would have saved U.S. taxpayers $11 billion, or nearly $500 million annually, in hurricane relief payments between 1988 and 2011.
Detlefsen also voiced BuildStrong’s support for the Disaster Savings Account Act of 2014, which would allow homeowners to create tax-free savings accounts to be used for mitigation activities. “Policies that encourage individuals and communities to invest in risk mitigation are a fiscally responsible way to make our country stronger, safer, and better prepared for natural disasters. Small upfront costs to make a home more resilient not only saves lives but can save countless dollars for homeowners and spare them the pain of losing everything in a disaster,” he said.