POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Flood map updates could fall victim to federal budget cuts

By David Cruz
Correspondent

The drumbeat against the President’s budget priorities – specifically their impact on New Jersey – continued this week as Democrats targeted a proposal by the administration to cut funding to The National Flood Insurance Program, which they say could devastate some shore communities, especially those still trying to rebound from Sandy.

The proposal calls for eliminating the $190 million discretionary appropriation for the NFIP’s updating of flood maps, in favor of exploring “other more effective and fair means of funding flood mapping efforts.” Translation: Make those people who are in flood zones pay higher premiums, rather than spreading the costs among all policy owners.

Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty has seen his share of nor’easters, hurricanes and superstorms batter his town’s beaches and flood its neighborhoods. He says the president’s budget plan will hit Belmar residents hard.

“The biggest concern for us is the massive proposed increases in flood insurance premiums coupled with the fact that there is no real money for hazard mitigation to keep the Atlantic Ocean at bay,” said the mayor.

Not to mention that, if the maps don’t get updated, it could actually lead to people building homes that are destined to flood and flood again, which, you know, makes everyone’s premiums go up even more. Doherty says he’s concerned about the impact the cuts could have on a segment of his town.

“Particularly seniors on a fixed income,” he said. “If you have a mortgage, one of the covenants of the mortgage is that you’re required to have flood insurance, so you have to pay it. But a lot of seniors own their homes outright. Maybe they don’t have a mortgage on it. Having flood insurance is smart, but what if they can’t afford it?”

Congressman Frank Pallone, who represents several Jersey Shore towns, says he hopes cooler heads prevail and that both sides of the aisle can come together on a compromise that scraps the budget cuts.

“In addition to that, we’re trying to get bipartisan consensus on a flood insurance reauthorzation bill that would limit cost increases and also limit the profits of the insurance companies so that they can’t charge all these extra expenses on to people who have to buy flood insurance,” he said.

Add to that the fact that the flood insurance program is almost $25 billion in debt. It’s enough to fill a shore town mayor with trepidation when he thinks about what a retreat from flood zone diligence could mean. Asked this week if he ever saw a day where Belmar might have some people actually leave and you’re going to think about letting the ocean reclaim pieces, Doherty said “I don’t think we’re going to get to that. That would be absolutely depressing. That would completely change the character of the Jersey Shore, which is not just an important part of our state, but for the whole country.”

But, like a lot of what was in the president’s budget, this proposed cut is subject to the vicissitudes of the budget process. The plan could look a lot differently after that, sort of like what a flood map might look after it gets updated.