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South Williamsport, PA
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County Hall Corner: Here Comes da Flood

Psychologists tell us that our mind cannot hold two contrary thoughts in our mind and believe that both are true. But, unfortunately, many homeowners in our area must do just that very thing. Here it goes — a person knows they cannot afford flood insurance for their home, and they also know that there is

Psychologists tell us that our mind cannot hold two contrary thoughts in our mind and believe that both are true. But, unfortunately, many homeowners in our area must do just that very thing. Here it goes — a person knows they cannot afford flood insurance for their home, and they also know that there is a betting chance that they will have a flood sometime in the life of their homeownership. What to do?

That was the cold, hard message that came out of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Insurance Roundtable at the Trade and Transit II building on Monday, August 27th sponsored by Muncy Bank and Trust Company. There was a heavyweight lineup, including Jessica Altman, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Jeff Thomas, Executive Deputy Director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and Carolyn Kowsky, Director of Policy Research and Engagement for the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Process Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Local officials were well represented as well, including County Commissioners Jack McKernan and Tony Mussare, representatives from the offices of U.S. Congressman Lou Barletta and State Senator Gene Yaw, to name a few.

The goal of the roundtable was to find methods to encourage more homeowners to purchase flood insurance. The first emphasis was the reality of flooding. Many homeowners believe they are safe because they are outside the high-risk flood area. But guess what? Twenty-five percent of all floods occur outside those areas. The northeastern part of the United States has seen a continual rise in rainfall over the past decades. In fact, our region has seen nearly a 75 percent increase in rainfall since 1960. (This past summer might raise that percentage!) All homeowners carry some fire insurance, and yet there is a 25 percent greater chance of a flood loss to a home and its contents than from a fire.

OK, OK, so there is a chance of flooding. But since NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) rates are so high, it is worth it to play the odds. A lot of people are thinking that way. This past year, NFIP has declined by 16 percent, and 50 percent in the past five years. Horror stories abound of the high price of flood insurance, and obviously, a vast number of people are saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

But this is like playing Russian roulette. It does not take much water in a house to cause a problem. Just one inch of water in a $170,000 home can cause up to $25,000 in damage. And truth be told, today’s Americans do not save up for the rainy day. Statistics state that 61 percent of Americans do not have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency.

Given the necessity of flood coverage, most people would pay for the insurance if it were affordable. Unfortunately, it isn’t. The affordability (or lack thereof) of NFIP was a major topic at the FEMA Forum, and the bad news is that unless the U.S. Congress takes measures to reform the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, the rates are not going to be reduced. The 2014 Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act that was advertised as addressing this issue simply delayed the increases of the 2012 Act.

A real fix would be one that many have advocated, which is to include a mandatory flood insurance policy into every homeowner’s policy, even if the home is in the 500-year floodplain. Many hands make light work, and a vastly larger pool would bring down the cost bar of flood insurance considerably. However, there does not seem to be any champions advocating this approach in Washington, D.C. at the moment.

So, those who live in Lycoming County, and own a home, are faced with a tough choice — to flood insure or not flood insure, that is the question. You can’t afford to, and you can’t afford not to. Good luck choosing!

[For those seeking flood mitigation actions and options, the Economist magazine has a wealth of information. It can be found at floodeconomics.com.]

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