By Bill Parry
To mark the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy Sunday in Broad Channel, state Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach) and a working group she convened presented a list of 12 legislative recommendations to strengthen the National Flood Insurance Program, which is slated to be reauthorized by Congress this month.
Amato Pheffer believes that Hurricanes Harvey, Irene and Maria shifted the national conversation on the federal response and that the working group’s five years of boots-on-the ground experience with Sandy and the still uncompleted rebuilding in its aftermath could make a valuable contribution to the process.
“Insurance shapes the whole landscape of resiliency and recovery. That’s why I convened this working group,” Pheffer Amato said. “The rest of the country is, unfortunately, about to experience some of the five-year horror show we went through — red tape, bureaucracy, and blatant exploitation. But we did come out stronger with a paramount desire to protect others from the worst and least necessary shocks. There’s no one better than a Sandy survivor to bring a list of important ‘To Do’s’ to a nation now grappling with these issues every year. And there’s no more impactful place to weigh in than on NFIP reauthorization.”
The working group’s list of priorities include additional funding to finish the FEMA maps, along with improved map accuracy, funding for mitigation efforts, increased accountability of NFIP contractors and caps on the mandatory required premium for flood insurance among others priorities.
Over half of all Americans live in a county adjacent to a coastline, and climate scientists expect flooding issues to worsen worldwide over the next several decades, making legislative steps taken in the near future potentially decisive as to the success or failure of securing the flood plain, according to Pheffer Amato.
The working group was comprised of stakeholders from impacted communities across south Queens whose input is singularly valuable to the national debate, and who were all too aware of the shortcomings of the current NFIP during the five years of rebuilding.
“Many of our homeowners were failed by the current NFIP,” Breezy Point Cooperative Assistant GM Denise Neibel said. “Relief was slow, painfully bureaucratic and extremely inconsistent. Despite paying into a program which was meant to protect and assist citizens, the program became the disaster after the disaster. We hope that by working to reform the NFIP, future victims of natural disasters will not encounter these same problems. Giving participants the guidance, answers and assistance they deserve will better enable them to reconstruct their lives.”
The future flood maps and federal response to flood-related emergencies will determine the livability conditions for the residents of southern Queens, according to state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).
“Our constituents know too well the minimal, erratic federal assistance after Sandy and have experienced the severe frustration of having to recover from its devastation,” Addabbo said. “This firsthand knowledge will be helpful to our federal government and for future generations, when addressing the issues related to flood damage and insurance premiums.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) vowed to fight to make much-needed fixes to the flood insurance program and push for a more permanent solution while U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) is wary of the current political climate on Capital Hill.
“My concern is that Republican members of Congress and the Trump administration think differently and would rather eliminate the government’s role in ensuring affordable access to flood insurance than reform the NFIP into a sustainable program,” Meeks said. “We have to strategize and advocate for a NFIP that works for New York, not one that simply works for private industry. This working group would go a long way towards achieving that goal.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr