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OPINION: Congress should invest in disaster mitigation


With the emphasis on holding the line on spending and curbing the federal deficit, members of Congress understandably may be a bit leery of any new spending. But there are certainly cases where spending today can mean smaller federal outlays in the future. That's certainly the case when the spending involves encouraging disaster mitigation.

As we report on Page 4, four bills dealing with various aspects of disaster mitigation have been introduced in Congress. All are backed by the Build Strong America Coalition, a group of insurance companies and associations as well as nonindustry groups dedicated to encouraging more effective building codes and other elements of disaster mitigation.

All of these measures deserve careful consideration by Congress. All involve some federal money, such as enhanced disaster relief for states that adopt up-to-date building codes or tax breaks for owners or contractors who incorporate effective mitigation practices when building or remodeling structures.

These incentives certainly come with associated costs, and lawmakers may be hesitant to add costs to an already bloated budget. But these are costs that could actually add to the government's bottom line.

The reason is simple. The federal government ends up paying for disaster relief in the wake of catastrophes, and has done so for decades. As was the case after Hurricane Katrina, the outlays can run into the billions of dollars. To cite just one example, the National Flood Insurance Program is already around $24 billion in the hole and likely to sink deeper with the next major hurricane or flood.

Any reasonable measure that can reduce the government's exposure to such losses should be welcomed. With or without incentives for states and private entities to adopt effective mitigation strategies, the fact remains that the federal government will respond to disasters. The difference is that with mitigation practices implemented before a catastrophe strikes, the outlay will be smaller than would be the case if mitigation steps aren't taken.

Encouraging mitigation comes with a price tag. Every investment does. Investing in mitigation is an investment whose dividends would far outweigh its initial costs.