Marvin Olasky

The Lord's Prayer declares, "lead us not into temptation," but that's exactly what the National Flood Insurance Program had done for some Americans of above-average income -- and the Senate just may keep it that way.

To understand how federal flood insurance works, look at the experience of ABC's John Stossel, in his own words: He "built a beach house on the edge of the ocean on Long Island. It was an absurd place to build a house. One block down the road was a desert-like wasteland where a dozen houses had eroded away a few years earlier. Still, my eager-for-the-business architect said, 'Why not build? If the ocean destroys your house, the government will pay for a new one.'"

Stossel reports that "the contractor was right. During a fairly ordinary storm, the ocean knocked down my government-approved pilings and ate my house. Financially I made out just fine. Federal flood insurance paid for the house -- and its contents." Others have said the same: The feds encourage building in storm-prone beach areas where private insurers rightly fear to tread.

Look, for example, at the case of North Carolina's Betty Minchew, whose oceanfront rental house blew away during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. She used cheap federal flood insurance to rebuild her house and then build two other beachfront rental houses in the same hazardous area, not caring that they were also idols for destruction. She said, "Hugo was good to me" -- and when hurricanes are good to people economically, something is awry.

Not everyone who owns oceanfront property is wealthy, but many are -- and for them, federal flood insurance is welfare for the rich. Once-bitten private insurers, twice shy, would not keep paying for buildings in risky locations, but the federal government has enabled the repeated rebuilding of structures in risky locations.

This summer it looked like change might finally come. The House of Representatives passed a bill intended to eliminate or reduce subsidies for vacation homes and non-residential properties, with the goal of bringing annual premiums for those properties more in line with market rates. But the Senate took no action, and it still might not unless public pressure grows or another hurricane spotlights the need for change.

This is really a test to see whether a GOP Congress that reformed welfare for the poor will also reform welfare for the rich. The parallels are evident:

Welfare for the poor brought about multi-generational dependency on government, and welfare for the rich also provides government stipends for irresponsible behavior.


Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit www.worldmag.com.
 
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