Free Markets, Free People

FEMA


So how’s it going in Sandyland?

You may remember, prior to the election but after Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast, that the New York Times pronounced that “A Big Storm Requires A Big Government”.

Of course, in the time since that pronouncement, we’ve seen “Big Government” show us that big bureaucracies are still just as unwieldy and unresponsive as they ‘ve always been, regardless of attempts to build a myth to claim otherwise.

Or said another way, FEMA’s response to Sandy has not been particularly impressive nor has it at all validated the New York Times editorial claim.

Of course, NE unions haven’t covered themselves in glory either:

Barry Moline, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, said Long Island could have received 125 additional workers from utilities across Florida as soon as two days after the storm if a dispute about the letters had been resolved sooner. He said most of the crews from Florida who were available were nonunion and refused to join Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, even if only temporarily.

[snip]

Crews that could have come to Long Island went instead to Pennsylvania, Moline said. “We could have been there on Wednesday, and instead we arrived on Sunday,” he said, after the union rescinded the requirement. [Emphasis added.]

But again, the story here is “Big Government” in general and FEMA – Big Government’s representative – in particular.  How has FEMA done?  Not as well as you’d expect, given the supposed failures of Katrina and the claimed lessons learned from that storm.  It appears those lessons are still being learned.

For instance:

It took days for FEMA to hit the ground in hard-hit parts of NYC. More than a week after the storm, FEMA representatives were just getting on the ground and opening temporary offices in New Jersey. When a nor’easter blew in, several of their offices shut down because of— wait for it— severe weather.

Huh.  A week after the storm?  Where’s the outcry?

Where are the news crews with weeping reporters telling us how horrible it is for the poor residents of Staten Island and spreading rumors about rape and murder?  Nowhere to be seen.

But back to FEMA.  FEMA is a bureaucracy, folks.  A big bureaucracy.  And big bureaucracies are neither responsive nor quick.  It’s just a fact of bureaucratic reality.  Expecting that to change is, well, simply a denial of reality.

So, you read stories like this:

“FEMA hasn’t done anything else. The inspector came out and he inspected the damage and that was it. He said he was going to forward it to his headquarters and I will hear from them, that’s it.” When asked if he has heard from anyone? Daily quickly responded, “No.”

And remember the promise to cut red tape?

“You have to get a copy from your landlord saying that it was your living space,” Jones said. “If you get denied (from flood insurance), get a letter in writing saying what (your insurance provider) won’t cover. Then submit that letter to FEMA and FEMA can send an inspector to inspect your home.”

In reality, it’s even worse than that:

Over the weekend, a source (who wishes to remain anonymous) reported that contractors contracted—as well as, generators, water, and other supplies paid for—by FEMA are being idled at New York’s Floyd Bennett Field by “red tape” requirements, while unions deploy their members and many storm victims sit in the dark.

While there are about 4,000 National Guardsmen at Bennett Field, there are hundreds of out-of-state contractors for FEMA, many of them linemen and electricians, that are not being deployed to help turn power pack on for residents because of the red tape.

On Sunday, out of the 400-500 workers available, according to the source, only three crews went out. Crews, he said, are usually two-man teams.

The union crews, the source stated, are free to come and go as they please, yet the non-union FEMA contractors are being held back because of red tape requirements.

The red-tape bottleneck, he said, comes from the Corps of Engineers. They get work orders in (places that need help), but the work orders don’t come out as they should.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” the source said over the weekend.

On Sunday night, FEMA contractors put in one generator for a 14-floor building. Just one.

And:

Immediately after the storm, beer maker Budweiser converted its beer lines in Georgia to produce water—44,000 cases of water. That water was trucked into the storm ravaged area, but much of it is still sitting as residents in across Brooklyn and in Far Rockaway, Queens continue to boil their water as of Saturday.

Even the NY Times hasn’t been able to completely ignore the debacle:

Two weeks. Monday was the 14th day since Hurricane Sandy upended lives on the Eastern Seaboard, the longest two weeks of many people’s lives. Plastic bottles. Warming buses. Charging stations. These are just a few of the signposts in a changed world. Help is coming, the people are told, but some have lost the desire to trust.

“I don’t believe,” said Lioudmila Korableva, 71, a resident of a darkened Coney Island building project filled with older people.

Meanwhile, smaller and more flexible and mostly private organizations have stepped in to try to make a difference.

Yup, a big storm needs a big government doesn’t it?

Sandy again proves the point that such thinking is simply wishful and has no basis in real fact.

Meanwhile the press is on to sex and tittilation.  The Obama/Sandy photo op has passed and so has their interest in following up on the disaster, even though the parallels are amazing:

So: late warnings, confused and inadequate responses, FEMA foul-ups and suffering refugees. In this regard, Sandy is looking a lot like Katrina on the Hudson. Well, things go wrong in disasters. That’s why they’re called disasters. But there is one difference.

Under Katrina, the national press credulously reported all sorts of horror stories: rapes, children with slit throats, even cannibalism. These stories were pretty much all false. Worse, as Lou Dolinar cataloged later, the press also ignored many very real stories of heroism and competence. We haven’t seen such one-sided coverage of Sandy, where the press coverage of problems, though somewhat muted before the election, hasn’t been marked by absurd rumors or ham-handed efforts to push a particular narrative.

But hey, pointing that out now would destroy the “big storms require big government” myth, would it? And besides, we all know the election’s over.  Screw the victims. The photo op is done.  It’s the preservation of the myth that’s important.

~McQ


Here’s a surprise – Federal Flood Insurance Program incentivizes bad – and costly – behavior

Did you know there’s a home in Mississippi that has flooded 34 times in 32 years? And each time it has flooded, the federal government, through FEMA’s Federal Flood Insurance Program, has paid the owner’s claim. The house, worth $69,900, has cost the government $663,000 in flood damage claims. That’s almost ten times the home’s worth and averages over $20,000 a year.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, that aptly describes this federal program. It essentially incentivizes home owners to remain in flood prone areas by bailing them out each time they are flooded. And, as you might imagine, that’s finally caught up with the program, as USA Today reports:

FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program is the nation’s main flood insurer, created by law in 1968 as private companies stopped covering flood damage. The program insures 5.6 million properties nationwide and aims to be self-sustaining by paying claims from premiums it collects.

Instead it’s running deeply in the red. A major reason, a USA TODAY review finds, is that the program has paid people to rebuild over and over in the nation’s worst flood zones while also discounting insurance rates by up to $1 billion a year for flood-prone properties.

Along with the huge losses from Hurricane Katrina, the generous benefits have forced the program to seek an unprecedented $19 billion taxpayer bailout.

As one critic succinctly points out, “if this were a private insurer, it would be bankrupt”. In fact, it with those business practices, it would have been bankrupt years, if not decades ago. And now, hat in hand, it goes to the taxpayer for a bailout. $19 billion dollars worth of bailout.

As a government program, federal flood insurance covers anyone. It’s similar to state-run programs that insure homeowners and drivers who cannot get private coverage. Policies cannot be canceled, and individual premiums cannot be raised based on claims payments.

"It is not run as a business," [FEMA Administrator Craig ]Fugate said.

Congress’ Government Accountability Office said in April that the program is "by design, not actuarially sound" because it has no cash reserves to pay for catastrophes such as Katrina and sets rates that "do not reflect actual flood risk."

Raising insurance rates or limiting coverage is hard. "The board of directors of this program is Congress," Fugate said. "They are very responsive to individuals who are being adversely affected."

Or said another way, Congress has been “captured” by influential constituents who see no problem using their influence to burden taxpayers to subsidize the way of life they prefer – no risk building in areas prone to natural disasters. It isn’t “regulatory capture” per se, but it could certainly be called “constituent capture”. It is certainly rent seeking. Whatever the name preferred, it is an abuse of the taxpayer’s money.

It appears the plan is to continue doing business as usual – providing cheap insurance to builders and homeowners who continue to build or rebuild in flood prone areas. No fault risk taking subsidized by the federal government via taxes. So when you see stories like this, you know who to blame:

In Fairhope, Ala., the owner of a $153,000 house has received $2.3 million in claims. A $116,000 Houston home has received $1.6 million. The payments are for damage to homes and what’s inside.

After all, the view’s beautiful, coverage cheap and can’t be canceled and the risk minimal in terms of dollar loss, so what incentive is there to relocate to an area less prone to flooding as long as the taxpayer is on the hook to subsidize that lifestyle and they keep paying?

~McQ