Legislation Would Give States More Disaster Mitigation Funds

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By Brandon Ross

May 10 — A bill that would give more money to states that adopt and enforce strict building codes was introduced May 10.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Albio Sires (D-N.J.) are sponsoring the National Mitigation Investment Act of 2016 (H.R. 5177), an attempt to curb the amount the nation spends on disaster recovery by increasing funds for safer residential and commercial structures.

The legislation, while similar to bills introduced in previous Congresses, is the first proposal to offer specific funds to states to hire building code inspectors. The inspectors would document that communities are being built up to par to qualify for additional funding.

Insurance industry reaction to the bill was positive, as buildings that are more resilient would figure to translate into smaller and fewer claims.

“The National Mitigation Investment Act is vitally important to our nation, not only for the policies it implements, but for what it represents,” Jimi Grande, senior vice president of federal and political affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), said in a press release.

‘Fundamental Change.'

NAMIC and others groups, including the BuildStrong Coalition of insurers, architects, engineers and first responders, have long criticized the way the nation financially addresses natural catastrophes. They say lawmakers want to appear frugal and therefore don't budget enough money for mitigation—but wind up approving post-disaster spending that the groups say is four times higher than preventative measures (124 DER, 6/29/15).

“This legislation is a fundamental change from the ‘wait and hope' policy that has left communities vulnerable to natural disasters to a proactive strategy that seeks to prevent losses from happening in the first place,” Grande said.

Grande said the legislation would “reform federal disaster policy by creating incentives for states that adopt and enforce modernized residential and commercial building codes. The act will also authorize a first-of-its-kind pilot program that will provide grants to states and localities to defray the costs that often prohibit the enforcement of more resilient residential codes.”

The bill calls on the National Advisory Council to study the costs of natural disaster damages, understand how disaster aid is being used and suggest steps to take before a crisis hits.

The bill comes after the White House proposed cutting certain FEMA disaster mitigation program funding nearly in half earlier this year, a move that troubled underwriters (See previous story, 02/23/16).

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com