The California hurricane is almost over. His flood insurance quote is about to begin.

California has almost seen its last series of storms hit the state since late December, leading to ten thousand the removal, not less than 20 deaths, and an estimate $1 billion in damages.

From the failure of canals in the Central Valley counties of Merced and Sacramento to flowing rivers on the coast, the rains were almost all parts of the state, and many areas received. four to six times on top of the rains of the past few weeks. Mudslides closed highways, thousands of homes flooded, trees downed power lines, and more. 13,000 Electric utility customers were not able to restore service as of Tuesday afternoon.

Forecasters expect that by Thursday, the last half, this time a weak one, will clear from northern and central California. But in the coming weeks, as floodwaters recede and the effects of the rains arrive, many people may face a second disaster: The lack of flood insurance will leave thousands of homeowners stranded. struggling with the cost of recovery and reconstruction. house

“California is a place of concern about water scarcity, not abundance,” said Rebecca Elliott, a professor at the London School of Economics. write a letter about flood insurance in the United States. “Many thousands of Californians will think they’re in flood waters and find out they’re not.”

Standard homeowner’s insurance does not cover flooding, however, accordingly a recent study, 47 percent of Americans think so. Only 1.33 percent of California households have an independent policy through the National Flood Insurance Program, a federal program that covers 95 percent of local floods. the United States. The portion of private flood policies in California is much smaller. But since the beginning of this month, 90 percent of the state’s population was under the flood watch.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, requires homeowners with federally regulated mortgages to purchase flood insurance if they are in the area. designated as “special flood hazard areas.” That is exactly the 100-year flood plain, or areas with a 1 percent annual chance of flooding. But the maps that FEMA uses to define these areas very late. First Street Foundation, a nonprofit that studies flood risk, found that there is 5.9 million people own land throughout the country are experiencing major flooding outside of official FEMA hazard areas.

“I show them maps of the world,” said Nick Ramirez, an insurance agent based in Los Angeles, whose clients are not required by law to buy flood insurance. “I said, ‘Do you want to protect yourself?’ Some say yes, but some just roll the dice.”

Streets and homes were flooded in the Felton Grove neighborhood of Santa Cruz, California, on January 9.
Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images

FEMA California Maps, mostly maps renewed in the 1980s and early 90s, if not done before, set aside about 80 percent of the rivers and streams of the state. They also do not take into account the negative effects of climate change, which include increasing the risk of flooding as the climate moves toward water degradation. Part of the reason they haven’t updated is the cost. Communities have also often opposed expanding flood zones to avoid costs to homeowners and restrictions on development.

If FEMA requires mandatory insurance, the policy is not enforced. Flood insurance requirements do not apply to paid-off mortgages or properties purchased with cash. And experts say it’s common for homeowners to give up their policies because mortgage companies don’t check them. Elliott says the fact that lenders guarantee their mortgages may be one of the reasons they aren’t paying attention. “They’re cutting those mortgages, consolidating them, and selling them,” he said.

In recent years, the number of Californians who hold flood insurance policies has decreased according to a national pattern. Experts attribute this large portion to special rates, especially to the increase in insurance rates that began in October 2021 under FEMA’s new pricing system known as Risk Rating 2.0.

The National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP, is long overdue struggle with debt, as a result of the increased risk of climate change and the relative cost of the policy. With Risk Rating 2.0, FEMA re-evaluated flood risks using independent models and then adjusted the values ​​to better reflect today’s conditions. The point, according to the agency, is insurance is fair, so that people in flood zones pay more according to their risk, and outsiders do not have to help them. (The new maps did not affect who was required to hold a policy.)

However, the result is a big fall in policies. “We’ve seen a nationwide decline in the number of people who have flood insurance (for several years),” said Nick VinZant, a senior research analyst at QuoteWizard, a publication online that allows consumers to buy and compare insurance prices. “It started to fall as soon as FEMA put the Risk Rating 2.0.”

Although the entire state pay less under the new program than before, 73 percent of California insurers saw their premiums increase, in some cases by more than $100 a month. Between March 2021 and August 2022, 11 percent of policyholders canceled the plan, one of the largest reductions in the country, according to VinZant. (Nationwide, the program lost 6 percent of cardholders during the same period).

Planada California home flood
Residents sweep water from a flooded home on January 11 in Planada, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

FEMA doesn’t provide statistical data on the policies it enforces, so it’s difficult to determine which areas have received the most funding. spend, the same places where people fell NFIP. But many experts think that it happened. “FEMA was there very misunderstood. The numbers they provided are limited, so it’s difficult to track,” said Nicholas Pinter, a professor and associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis. “There is a suspicion that the increase in expenses has caused departures from the program.”

Another driver of the trip: years of mega-droughts drying up rivers and reservoirs in the Western U.S. Naturally, enrollment is rising. flood insurance is after a flood and goes down in dry years, when people forget about the possibility of flooding. “Right now, my phone is ringing,” Ramirez said.

FEMA is proceeding with the drought declaration. “There are many factors that can affect this decline in policyholders, including the economic impact of the disease, the economy, the housing market, the affordability, or the purchase of flood insurance from the private market,” David Maurstad, deputy director of resilience for FEMA, told Grist in a statement. “For California in particular, (maybe) because of the many years of drought in the area and the belief that flooding may not affect them.”

Due to the increasing frequency of floods and the rising cost of restoration, Elliott believes that it is unreasonable to expect the National Flood Insurance Program to act like a private insurance company, paying enough to cover its costs. risks and losses on his losses, while cheap. In California, the average cost of this insurance is $779 per year, although rates vary by region. Research by Pinter and his colleagues shows that not only are a small number of coastal communities like Malibu high-risk and high-income, the majority of flooding is states located in low-income areas.

The national program seeks to encourage more flood-proof housing and planning by offering grants and reduced rates to individuals and communities are taking steps to protect their homes. But those investments can be expensive and the agency has been criticized for not having enough help available. “We (the NFIP) hoped to preserve the American dream of home ownership while also hoping to highlight the crisis, driving people away from the water’s edge, and reduce the overall risk of flooding,” Elliott said. “It was very difficult to do all of that.” According to him, a better way is to think of insurance as one part of the better plan and set of policies to protect people from floods.

On Saturday, President Biden approved California Governor Gavin Newsom’s request for a great declaration of disaster in three districts, followed by the state spontaneous confession for 41 of its 58 counties. Merced, Sacramento, and Santa Cruz are now eligible for grants for temporary housing and home repairs, affordable loans to help pay for lost property, and other types of support. More counties may be added as officials continue to assess damage across the state.


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