Natural Disasters Revive Talk of National Catastrophic Fund

 The Carr fire in Northern California, along with flooding in the East and hurricane damage and rising seas level in the Gulf states, has revived talk of a National Catastrophic Fund to provide a backup to state disaster relief funds and hopefully reduce upward pressure on homeowner and business insurance rates.

The Carr fire in Northern California, along with flooding in the East and hurricane damage and rising seas level in the Gulf states, has revived talk of a National Catastrophic Fund to provide a backup to state disaster relief funds and hopefully reduce upward pressure on homeowner and business insurance rates.

Western states are ablaze. Flash floods immerse the East. Hurricanes and tornados occur more frequently. Sea levels are rising as the global thermometer heats up.

Alarming news in stark contrast to tepid congressional action to extend national flood insurance by four months. That’s not a typo. Four months. To avert the program’s expiration during hurricane season. There was a four-month extension last year, too.

The fires, floods and fudging have rekindled calls for a National Catastrophic Fund, a bundled insurance vehicle to address all manner of catastrophes and avoid lurching from crisis to crisis, leaving victims in financial and emotional limbo.

“The catastrophe fund could provide private insurers a safety net by purchasing reinsurance and passing the savings on to consumers through lower premiums. The fund could also have a pool of money set aside for the immediate needs of victims,” The Tampa Bay Times editorialized in 2017.

Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist told NPR this week the time has come to stop equivocating and enact long-term reforms not only to national flood insurance, but also financial assistance for all national catastrophes. The former GOP governor of Florida said his state frequently suffers from serious hurricane damage and faces the specter of rising sea levels that could inundate large chunks of Florida’s coastline.

Crist said catastrophes have localized impacts, but they should be the concern of all Americans. Storm damage in the Northeast, wildfires in the West or hurricanes in the Gulf states, he argued, affect the entire country because “we’re all Americans.” 

One of the stumbling blocks to reform is political indecision about the $20 billion debt that exists in the national flood insurance program. Crist said the some or all of the debt should be forgiven as part of legislation to create a more all-encompassing fund to address damage caused by natural disasters.

The idea has been kicked around for at least a decade, but may resurface as a serious proposition in the wake of a string of disasters from coast to coast. The CEO of Allstate, one of the nation’s largest US insurance companies, endorsed the idea as far back as 2006 to provide a backup for state disaster relief funds that can easily be swamped by major events. Edward Liddy said “America is woefully unprepared” for natural disasters, which are occurring with increasing frequency.

Oregon has felt the heat of major wildfires near The Dalles and in Southern Oregon this year, even though it is early in the wildfire season. California is battling a string of wildfires from the south to the north, which have consumed homes and resulted in multiple deaths. Reports indicate parts of the Western United States may have experienced the hottest July in recorded history, and temperatures continue to climb.