Flood-Risk Reduction and Resilience: Federal Assistance and Programs

Recent flood disasters have raised congressional and public interest in not only reducing flood risks, but also improving flood resilience, which is the ability to adapt to, withstand, and rapidly recover from floods. In the United States, flood-related responsibilities are shared. States and local governments have significant discretion in land-use and development decisions, which can be major factors in determining the vulnerability to and consequence of hurricanes, storms, extreme rainfall, and other flood events. Congress has established various federal programs that may be available to assist U.S. state, local, and territorial entities and tribes in reducing flood risks. Among the most significant federal activities to reduce communities’ flood risks and improve flood resilience are

assistance with infrastructure projects (e.g., levees, shore protection) and other flood mitigation activities that save lives and reduce property damage; and

mitigation incentives for communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

This report provides an overview of these assistance programs and the NFIP-related mitigation incentives; it also raises flood-related policy considerations associated with federal programs and practices.

Assistance Programs

Each federal program that provides flood-related assistance has its own focus, statutory limitations, and way of operating. Some programs are triggered by certain declarations or actions and may be available only to areas or states subject to recent disasters. These programs include

the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is triggered by a Stafford Act disaster declaration; and

Community Development Block GrantDisaster Recovery (CDBGDR) assistance administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which may be available if Congress provides supplemental appropriations.

Although subject to available appropriations, other federal assistance may be more broadly accessible. These assistance programs include

FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) grant program and the Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) grant program;

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) risk-reduction projects;

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) acquisition of floodplain easements and flood-risk-reduction project grants;

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) coastal resilience grants;

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) support for state-administered loan programs and direct credit assistance for stormwater management; and

HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs.

Flood Insurance

In order for federal flood insurance to be available to homeowners and business owners in a community, the NFIP requires participating communities to develop and adopt flood maps and enact minimum floodplain standards based on those flood maps. The NFIP encourages communities to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations such as zoning codes, building codes, subdivision ordinances, and rebuilding restrictions. The NFIP also encourages communities to reduce flood risk through three programs: the FMA, Community Rating System, and Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage.

Context for Federal Activities and Policy Considerations

Since the 1960s, the federal role in responding to catastrophic and regional flooding has expanded both through the NFIP and federal disaster response and recovery efforts. Hurricane Katrina and subsequent events have generated concern about the nation’s and the federal government’s financial exposure to flood losses and floods’ economic, social, and public health impacts on individuals and communities. Members of Congress and other decisionmakers are faced with numerous policy questions, including whether federal programs provide incentives or disincentives for state and local entities to prepare for floods and manage their flood risks, and whether changes to how federal assistance programs and the NFIP are implemented and funded could result in long-term resilience benefits.