Texas Congressman Jeb Hensarling is sick and tired of American taxpayers being asked to help people who’ve lost everything to natural disasters rebuild their lives.
“At some point, God’s telling you to move,” he said during a Thursday interview on CNBC. “The federal government is encouraging and subsidizing people to live in harm’s way.”
Of course, divine mandate or not, simply moving out of a high-risk flood zone isn’t as easy as Hensarling seems to suggest. In fact, it’s oftentimes low-income communities that are most likely to suffer flood damage in the first place, and there are serious economic barriers to picking up your life and moving.
“If you go into some areas, low-income areas, there are no sidewalks. There are no drainage systems other than very crude, open ditches,” Texas Southern University Urban Studies and Environmental Professor Robert Bullard explained to ThinkProgress after Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston. “When it floods in a lot of low-income areas, it just runs into open ditches, and the ditches overflow. The other areas have more sophisticated flood control.”
To complicate matters further, some people aren’t aware they live in at-risk flood zones to begin with. That was the case for residents in a Fort Bend County subdivision outside Houston; where few homeowners knew their subdivision was designated as a spillway which the Army Corps of Engineers could deliberately flood with billions of gallons of water to spare other parts of the city in case of heavy rains. So, unaware of the immediate danger they’d face if flooding occurred, most of the subdivision’s residents didn’t have flood insurance when Hurricane Harvey hit, The Dallas Morning-News reported.
It’s true that the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program—which subsidizes the overwhelming majority of flood claims in the U.S.—has been strained to the breaking point by the recent spate of catastrophic storms. The program is currently an estimated $25 billion dollars in debt, with just 1% of claims for repeatedly flooded houses accounting for a disproportionate 25-30% of the program’s losses.
Unfortunately, telling people whose lives have been upended time and time again by floodwaters—and who’ve just lost everything to Harvey—that God wants them to pick up their lives and move isn’t helping anyone.