National disaster fund needed

  • Article by: EDITORIAL , Miami Herald
  • Updated: January 4, 2013 - 2:40 PM

Disaster relief shouldn't be political, as it was this week with superstorm Sandy.

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A creche and Christmas decorations are left by a homeowner along a foundation wall and the ruins of a house in the Breezy Point section of New York, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. More than 100 homes were burned to the ground in an inferno that swept through the beachfront neighborhood during Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012.

Photo: Mark Lennihan, Associated Press - Ap

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The storm of outrage triggered by House Republican leaders' failure earlier this week to take up a $60 billion measure for superstorm Sandy relief was remarkable for its ferocity.

But after the shouting dies down, it also may turn out to be notable for something else: the opening it provides to renew talks on creating a national catastrophe fund.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, was among the loudest critics, slamming his own party and bitterly telling reporters that "palace intrigue" had trumped the needs of the storm's victims.

Republican Rep. Peter King of New York branded House Speaker John Boehner's initial decision to pull the bill a "cruel knife in the back" for New York and New Jersey.

Disaster relief, both concluded, shouldn't be political.

They're right. And even though Mr. Boehner buckled under the pressure, agreeing to hold a vote Friday on $9 million for the national flood insurance program and a Jan. 15 vote on the remaining $51 billion, that reversal shouldn't tamp down the raised voices of storm victims who became pawns on a national political chessboard.

A national CAT fund could stop this indefensible game-playing from happening again during the next disaster. It's a solution that Florida congressional representatives have proposed as far back as 2007.

Floridians, more than most, are aware of the toll that natural disasters can take on people's lives, their livelihoods, their homes and their families. Costs for disaster recovery have escalated in the 20 years since Hurricane Andrew struck in 2002 with an estimated $26.5 billion in damages. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 offered another grim lesson. Now, Sandy.

And there are other kinds of disasters, such as wildfires, that hit states far from the coast.

The ultimate solution - especially for Florida and other coastal states - is a national, federally-managed fund to cover the costs of hurricanes, superstorms and other natural disasters.

Florida's congressional delegation tried to push this legislation starting in 2007, when then-Reps. Ron Klein and Tim Mahoney, both Democrats, got a bill through the House to create a national catastrophe insurance fund. The measure died in the Senate.

Now there's another under consideration. U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced the Taxpayer Protection Act in September, post-Sandy. It would set up a national catastrophe fund, financed by homeowners' policy premiums, to provide reinsurance for state disaster programs.

Katrina, with its $100-billion-plus federal recovery program, proved that state insurance markets alone cannot cover the costs of some disasters. A national catastrophe fund that combines state resources with federal government support is the best way to cope with this permanent threat and spare us all another shameful episode of political games at the expense of storm victims.

 

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