FEMA also funds its maps through the National Flood Insurance Program. It takes a small slice of homeowners' flood insurance premiums, about $150 million in the 2013 fiscal year. But the flood insurance programis also in trouble, and income from the premiums is already stretched thin. The program has more than $20 billion in debt after paying out massive claims after Katrina and Sandy, and it took in only $3.6 billion in premiums last year.
As part of an overhaul to the insurance program last year, Congress authorized the government to spend $400 million a year for the next five years to update flood maps. But for the 2013 fiscal year, Congress has appropriated just a quarter of that. Sequestration has cut another $5 million, according to the Office of Management and Budget, leaving $95 million for flood mapping this year.
That's not nearly enough, said Larry Larson, director emeritus of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, a trade organization based in Madison, Wis.
"To get the mapping done, you need probably $400 million a year for 10 years," Larson said.
The experiences of some homeowners after Sandy illustrate the dangers of outdated flood maps.
FEMA was in the process of updating the maps in New York City and New Jersey when Sandy hit. After the storm, the agency rushed to complete "advisory" flood maps designed to give homeowners a rough idea of how much they might need to raise their damaged homes by to avoid catastrophically high flood insurance premiums 2014 more than $30,000 a year for some homeowners in the worst flood zones.
But homeowners like George Kasimos, whose Toms River, N.J., house was damaged in the storm, say they don't want to shell out tens of thousands of dollars to raise their homes until FEMA has finalized the new maps. FEMA plans to release preliminary maps for New Jersey this summer, but the final ones aren't expected until late next year. (Scott Duell, the risk analysis chief for FEMA in New York, said that the cuts had not slowed down work on the new maps in New York and New Jersey.)
Kasimos said any cuts to the flood mapping program were shortsighted.
"There's going to be another hurricane somewhere, there's going to be another disaster," he said. "If you're cutting the flood mapping program, somebody's going to get screwed."
From ProPublica.org (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.