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President Obama's proposed 2016 budget contains good news for flood mapping and mitigation
Wednesday, March 11, 2015

From the ASFPM Chair, William S. "Bill" Nechamen - Published in the February 2015 issue of "News & Views"

What a whirlwind month it has been! No, I’m not talking about the four “storms if the century” that have hit the East Coast in the past month. I’m talking about major changes proposed for federal flood policy and budgets. You’ve probably already heard about the President’s Executive Order 13690, which updates the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. Details about the new proposal are covered in this issue of News & Views, including Executive Director Chad Berginnis’s report.

The administration is also putting proposed federal budget dollars where its mouth is. The President’s proposed 2016 budget contains good news for flood mapping and mitigation. This welcome change in budget priorities must be credited at least in part to the hard work that ASFPM and its members have done over the years.

Recently budgets were drastically cut for new flood mapping, resulting in maps that remain hopelessly out-of-date, and even new maps that in many places do not contain updated data. In order to provide a detailed analysis of the need to continue investing in updating flood maps, ASFPM in 2013 published “Flood Mapping for the Nation: A Cost Analysis for the Nation’s Flood Map Inventory.” The report concluded that a minimum of $400 million per year over 10 years is needed to complete updating the nation’s flood maps, with $116 million to $275 million per year required after that to maintain the maps. ASFPM provided the report to key federal officials and congressional staff. Yet, until this year, the administration has been unwilling to request increased mapping budgets, in spite of the establishment of a National Flood Mapping Program with an authorization of $400 million a year from fiscal years 2013 through 2017.

An authorization is not an allocation. However, it does make it easier to argue for a full allocation. This year, the administration heard the recommendations for increased mapping funding, and has requested $400 million in next year’s budget. This is great news, but it isn’t the full story. Flood insurance fees raise about $121 million that goes for mapping operating costs, including review of Letters of Map Change. The $400 million includes those operating costs, so it is really about a $279 million request for new mapping. Still, it is a great leap in the right direction, and ASFPM members and staff who advocated for this deserve much of the credit.

Another piece of very positive news in the President’s budget is a request for $200 million for Pre-Disaster Mitigation. PDM funds have historically been available for cost-effective mitigation projects and hazard mitigation planning grants, without the need for a disaster declaration. This has been essential to states that, unlike my own, do not receive frequent disaster declarations. In recent years, the administration has attempted to eliminate the PDM line item. Pressure from ASFPM members has helped keep the budget line in Congress’s final budgets, though at a minimum level of funding. Once a program goes away due to zero funding, it usually does not come back. By keeping even a minimum level of funding, it remained possible to increase funding for the program.

FEMA’s concept was to fold PDM into a National Preparedness Grant Program that would have consolidated 16 FEMA grants into one. While it’s often a good thing to streamline government programs, in this case it would be a disaster for natural hazards grants. As then Executive Director Larry Larson testified in 2012: “Ultimately the National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP) and National Preparedness Goal are aimed at readiness, not mitigation. While mitigation is a component of readiness (as it is a component of response and recovery) readiness is not a substitute for mitigation.” Essentially, natural hazard mitigation would have to compete with terrorism preparedness for funding.

The administration now understands that natural hazard planning and mitigation must be recognized and supported on its own. As such, on behalf of the ASFPM Board of Directors, I welcome the budget proposal, as well as the proposal for $175 million for Flood Mitigation Assistance grants.

I don’t believe that these positive developments would have happened without ASFPM continuing, over several years, to provide reasoned and thoughtful analysis on these issues.





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