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Canmore, Alberta, in 2013. Flooding there was the most expensive disaster in Canada’s history at the time. Image: John Gibson/Getty Images
2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang has said that for many regions of America where climate change is a destructive enough force, Americans should pick up and move instead of the government undertaking efforts to rebuild lost homes. This got a lot of buzz but it turns out that Canada is already implementing some of Yang’s ideas. As the New York Times reported, “Unlike the United States, which will repeatedly help pay for people to rebuild in place, Canada has responded to the escalating costs of climate change by limiting aid after disasters, and even telling people to leave their homes. It is an experiment that has exposed a complex mix of relief, anger and loss as entire neighborhoods are removed, house by house.”
Canada Gets Serious: Canada’s Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters that if people deliberately rebuild in danger zones, at some point “they are going to have to assume their own responsibility for the cost burden.”
A Lesson for America?: The Times also noted that Hurricane Dorian “is the third hurricane to strike North Carolina in four years. Many of the places inundated this time, such as Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks, had been hit by one of the earlier storms as well, only to rebuild and then flood again.”
As of last year, the United States had 36,774 houses and other buildings the government describes as “severe repetitive loss properties,” homes that have flooded and repaired at least twice, according to data from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The rebuilding of these homes is paid for by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
The Finances: The Washington Post editorial board explained that the NFIP in 2017 “took in approximately $3.6 billion in premiums and paid out $8.7 billion, raising the program’s total debt to more than $20 billion. This is about $10 billion below its legal limit — but only because Congress canceled $16 billion in debt in 2017.” Because of this many don’t see government payments for homes to be rebuilt in flood plains as a good use of taxpayer money.
For this reason, the libertarian R Street Institute supports legislation to reform the NFIP, they recently wrote that “The House Financial Services Committee passed reform legislation in June that makes significant improvements to the program’s maps, invests in mitigation and ensures affordability for low-income policyholders. However, the bill has yet to be taken up on the House floor and the Senate has not yet moved any legislation.”
Why This Matters: Disaster preparedness and how our government will respond and support Americans after natural disasters will require a serious conversation as climate change intensifies. In 2017 natural disasters cost the United States $306 billion and will only become more expensive. Since government budgets are finite, we’re going to have to make priorities. Whether that looks like Canada’s policies or not is still to be determined but should be an important part of the political conversation throughout the presidential primary process.
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