Mr. President, I stand before the Senate today to call for the passage of the Temporary Extension Act of 2010. This legislation would extend a number of very important benefits that families across the Nation rely on to get them through difficult economic times.
This bill includes an extension of unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work families, including hundreds of thousands in the Midwest, an extension of COBRA benefits for those who lost their health care along with their jobs, and a number of important tax credits for businesses and individuals which are vital as we seek to generate economic activity.
I cannot tell you how many times I heard about this when I went around our State and spoke with small businesses. However, there is one program—I know our colleagues have focused on how important it is to get this program done, how important it is that one person should not be allowed to hold up something that is so worthy and expected and necessary for the American people—but there is one thing that has not been discussed as much, and that is the National Flood Insurance Program that is also included in this bill.
Homeowners insurance covers damage from various sources, but it does not cover damage that results from flooding. Sadly, in too many cases unknowing Americans learn of this hole in their policy only after it is too late. In recognition of this major gap in coverage, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968 to give home and business owners the chance to financially protect themselves, their property, and their families. For over 40 years, this program has helped communities recover after devastating natural disasters. I have been in some of these disasters: The flood in Rushford, MN. No one will forget Grand Forks. No one will forget how close we got last year with Fargo, and the Minnesota city of Moorhead; the floods in Iowa in the last 2 years. These are real disasters.
All regions of America are susceptible to flooding, whether it is torrential seasonal floods, rains, thunderstorms, or even the recent tsunami across the Pacific Ocean that struck after the tragic earthquake in Chile. We cannot escape the powerful forces of nature.
Flooding by its nature is unpredictable. Families and businesses need to know if the worst happens they will have the tools needed to help them get back on their feet. In my State, the Flood Insurance Program is vital to those who live in any area susceptible to flooding. However, at this time of year our attention is focused on families living across the Red River Basin in northwestern Minnesota.
Last spring, above-average rainfall compounded by an untimely melting of snow resulted in, as we all saw on TV, devastating floods along the Red River which hit the highest level ever recorded. I was there with the people. It was an extraordinary effort, as you watched grandmothers taking the frozen sandbags and putting them in place. You saw people who were up for 48 hours to protect their homes. As the waters receded, President Obama declared 15 counties as disaster areas, and communities throughout the region began the lengthy cleanup process and solemnly faced the devastation. This is not the first time the Red River has overflowed its banks, and it certainly will not be the last.
We are working at this moment on a long-term plan so this doesn’t happen in the future, but for now we are again facing a threat in the Red River. This winter’s heavy snowpack has led to a gloomy outlook for flooding this spring, which does not bode well for these communities. Volunteers in Moorhead, MN, have already begun filling sandbags in preparation for this year’s floods. Although the Red River runs between Moorhead, MN, and Fargo, ND, when it comes to this calamity, the area is one community. In a testament to the people of northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, the river does not divide us; it unites us.
As honorable, tireless, and commendable these efforts are, they cannot do it alone, and they need and deserve our help. Facing the heartbreaking loss of a home, the National Flood Insurance Program at least provides participants the peace of mind that their livelihoods will not be equally destroyed, and they will have the financial resources to start over.
Sadly, the actions of one Member of this body have not only put in jeopardy this program but endanger all the communities and residents along the Red River, those who have not yet purchased their flood insurance—and believe me, there are still some people because they are calling our office.
Cherie, a resident of Moorhead, MN, contacted my office trying to understand how this legislative paralysis caused by one Member of this body will impact her neighbors and her community. As of Monday, this program has come to a halt. Certain policy renewals may move forward, but those seeking a new policy to protect their homes may be left out in the cold.
Because of this body’s inability—because of one person’s decision—to extend the authorization of this vital program, residents in the Red River Valley do not know if they are going to be able to get flood insurance by the time the waters begin to rise in late March and early April. The intricacy of this program complicates matters more. New policyholders must wait 30 days before they take effect. There is no time to spare for Minnesotans seeking to protect their families from the upcoming floods. They may come at the end of the month. They may come at the beginning of April. We don’t know.
There are other parts of this country where flooding comes later, and those people will be interested in purchasing policies. They don’t know if their business is going to be able to survive another flood season or whether they will lose everything with no second chance to start over.
It is important to note that the National Flood Insurance Program saves taxpayer dollars. When communities implement flood plain management requirements and residents purchase flood insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that flood damage is reduced by $1 billion each year. In fact, FEMA estimates that the Federal Government saves between $3 and $4 for every $1 spent on flood mitigation in advance of a problem.
The Flood Insurance Program also provides building standards which, when followed, leads to 80 percent less damage annually than those structures not built according to these standards.
But this is not the only program being threatened by this stalemate. Because of Senator Bunning’s objections yesterday, roughly 2,000 Department of Transportation staff were furloughed, largely at the Federal Highway Administration, which is responsible for highway, bridge, and road construction projects across our Nation.
I know a little bit about those projects because I live six blocks from that bridge that fell down in the middle of the Mississippi River in the middle of a beautiful summer day—an eight-lane highway down the middle of the Mississippi River. We know how important these highway projects are to rebuilding safely, and we can just have one Member of the Senate who decides to stop these types of projects in their tracks?
Highway projects are financed by State departments of transportation, and Federal funds reimburse the States for work on their projects. With furloughed staffs, these reimbursements will come to a halt which will force State departments of transportation across the Nation to halt work. The reimbursements amount to $190 million per day.
In addition, Senator Bunning’s actions will prevent the departments of transportation from making vital grant awards. I am a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which deals with roads and bridges, and I found the stopping of these programs particularly troubling. Ironically, on Wednesday, the committee will hold a hearing on the importance of transportation investment in the national economy.
If we are going to move forward to the next century’s economy, we need to have the next century’s transportation system. I respectfully request the Senator from Kentucky allow an up-or-down vote on his amendment; that he stop stalling; that he let us vote so the people of the Red River Valley who have not yet purchased flood insurance can buy that insurance; the people who want their bridges built and their highways built can go ahead and have those things done; the people waiting on their unemployment benefits can have that unemployment compensation. I request he stop stalling so the Senate can resume work and extend these programs for the stop-gap emergency basis on which so many programs and so many Americans depend.