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One-on-One: White House climate advisor discusses administration’s increased funding to prepare for hurricanes

The White House will also develop a new NASA mission concept for an Earth System Observatory to forecast and monitor natural disasters.
Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 6:57 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Biden administration is doubling federal emergency spending to help communities prepare for extreme weather events like hurricanes.

FOX 8 interviewed Ali Zaidi, Deputy White House National Climate Advisor about the $1 billion the administration is investing in pre-disaster mitigation resources to help communities, families, and businesses.

“The right time to start preparing is before the storm arrives and we know that a dollar invested in pre-disaster mitigation yields at least $6 of benefits,” said Zaidi.

June 1 is the official start of the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season. The Biden administration says it is better to be proactive than reactive, in terms of natural disasters.

“This $1 billion will be administered by FEMA. Communities will apply directly to the agency. The agency will fund projects all around the country and look we recognize that a billion dollars is a small down payment in the sort of resilience investments we need to be making all around the country,” said Zaidi.

President Biden visited FEMA’s Washington headquarters and received a briefing on preparations for hurricane season.

“We all know that the storms are coming, and we’re going to be prepared,” Biden said.

Zaidi was asked how the administration envisions communities using the funds ahead of hurricane season.

“Yes, so take an example, you’ve got a children’s hospital or a hospital deciding to get more resilient ahead of a storm, that means making investments in maybe building a cocoon around the hospital, elevating some of the generation assets, making sure not only that there is backup power but that, that backup power is at a level that can sustain flooding, getting all of those investments in place takes support,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 60% chance of an above-normal hurricane season this year.

Zaidi says FEMA will work to get the funds out quickly to areas that qualify for the assistance.

“The FEMA team is in the process of soliciting applications that come in and over the course of the year the FEMA team will be making the selections and making sure that this money goes out and is spent in a prudent way,” he said.

Some homeowners like Tom Roche are worried about what this year’s hurricane season will bring.

“I’m concerned because the weather is getting more turbulent, the weather is getting less predictable and a big concern is the forecasting where often a Category 2 is forecast and a Category 4 lands,” said Roche.

Flooding is a concern in coastal areas as are flood insurance rates.

Sandra Jones says fortunately she can afford her insurance premiums, but she acknowledges that not everyone can.

“It’s already high, so some people maybe can’t afford it. If I had a house note and all of that I probably couldn’t afford it, but by me not having a whole lot of expenses, it’s okay,” she said.

Zaidi said the White House is cognizant of flood insurance concerns.

“The administration is looking at a broad set of tools to bolster the resilience of our communities. We know that risk management in the form of insurance is a really powerful tool and we’ve got a real focus in making sure the NFIP Program is as strong and effective as it can be and starts from the very basics in making sure that the mapping that’s done that’s actually reflective of the reality that we live in today, to making sure its affordable and accessible to as broad a spectrum of the population as possible,” Zaidi stated.

David Maurstad, Senior Executive of the National Flood Insurance Program said the agency’s Risk Rating 2.0 Program will address unfairness in premiums.

“Under Risk Rating 2.0, FEMA is fixing longstanding inequities in the NFIP’s flood insurance pricing and establishing a system that is better equipped for the reality of frequent flooding caused by climate change,” said Maurstad.

He also says owners of older homes will get a break under the program.

“As a result of FEMA’s increased technological and mapping capabilities, we now know that two-thirds of older homes which are currently paying some of the highest rates in the NFIP will see immediate premium decreases under the new methodology. With no change, current inequitable rates remain and policyholders for many of these older homes will continue to pay more than they should,” Maurstad said.

And a FEMA spokesperson says in Louisiana, 97 % of current flood insurance policy holders’ premiums will either decrease or increase by $20 or less per month.

Additionally, the FEMA spokesperson said the agency is conscious of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and is taking a phased approach to rolling out the new rates.

New policies beginning October 1 will be subject to the new rating methodology. Also on that date, existing flood insurance policyholders who are eligible for renewal will be able to take advantage of immediate decreases in their premiums, according to FEMA.

However, all remaining policies that are renewed on or after April 1, 2022 will be subject to the new rating methodology.

And FEMA says starting on August 1, current NFIP policyholders can contact their insurance company to learn more about how the Risk Rating 2.0-Equity in Action will mean to them.

Additional information can also be found at: https://www.fema.gov/flood-insurance/work-with-nfip/risk-rating/profiles.

The White House also said it will develop a new NASA mission concept for an Earth System Observatory to forecast and monitor natural disasters.

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