FEMA removes data showing drop in flood insurance policies

By Thomas Frank | 09/12/2022 06:43 AM EDT

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell on Capitol Hill last year. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has removed publicly available records from its website that showed hundreds of thousands of people had dropped their federal flood insurance policies in recent months.

FEMA pulled the records after E&E News cited the data in an Aug. 17 news article that revealed more than 425,000 people had discontinued their policies with the agency’s National Flood Insurance Program since October (Climatewire, Aug. 17).

The agency said it removed the records to correct inaccuracies and it did not know when the data would be restored. A note on FEMA’s website says the reports “should be available within the coming weeks.”

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FEMA did not dispute E&E News’ analysis in August of the decline in NFIP customers and acknowledged there had been a “drop in policyholders.”

E&E News reported that the number of NFIP policies fell from 4.96 million on Sept. 30, 2021, to 4.54 million as of June 30 — a decline of nearly 9 percent. The NFIP provides most of the nation’s flood insurance, which is sold separately from standard homeowners’ policies.

The wave of discontinuations began when FEMA started hiking some rates under a broad restructuring that will make each premium reflect a property’s flood risk more accurately. The restructuring is being phased in through March 31, which means the number of people discontinuing their NFIP policies could increase over the next six months.

FEMA itself projected in an internal report in December that the number of NFIP policies would fall to 4.04 million by 2030, though the agency said the projection represented a “pessimistic financial model” (Climatewire, July 25).

Some policyholders are seeing their rates decrease under the restructuring, known as Risk Rating 2.0. But the premium hikes have raised concerns that flood insurance had become too costly for some customers and that homeowners who drop coverage will be financially exposed to flood damage.

FEMA removed five datasets that it has made public for years showing the number of NFIP policies in each state for the previous 12 months and the number of policies in various categories of flood zones. FEMA updates the datasets each month, and the information is used by researchers, lawmakers and journalists.

The datasets had become particularly important since FEMA launched Risk Rating 2.0, which the agency hoped would encourage homeowners to buy flood coverage by showing them more precisely their flood risk.

Some insurance agents told E&E News that the restructuring was backfiring because it was resulting in higher premiums for homeowners who are not required to have flood insurance and could drop their coverage without penalty.

FEMA removed the datasets in early September because “they did not account for all [NFIP] policies in force,” according to a statement to E&E News from Jeff Jackson, the agency’s deputy assistant administrator for FEMA’s insurance directorate.

Jackson said FEMA became aware in early August of “reporting issues” related to the number of NFIP policies shown on the datasets, which raised questions about the accuracy of the data the agency was publishing on its website.

“When we determined there may be concerns with our policy reporting, we made the decision to pull that information offline,” Jackson said.

Links to the datasets have been disabled and replaced with a note saying the data “should be available within the coming weeks.”

But in his email, Jackson said that he “cannot state when the public should expect to see that data restored.”

In July, FEMA published a report on state laws that require property sellers to disclose a property’s flood history or flood risk to a prospective buyer. The report includes a chart showing the number of flood insurance policies in each state as of mid-May, which reflects a decline from earlier months.