With Costly Floods on the Rise, Congress Passes Bill to Help Communities Prepare

More funding to state and local governments could greatly decrease disaster-related losses

Navigate to:

With Costly Floods on the Rise, Congress Passes Bill to Help Communities Prepare
The elevated foundation on the Houston home on the right helped prevent floodwater from entering the house during Hurricane Harvey; the home on the left was inundated. A bill passed by Congress last week and signed by President Donald Trump on Oct. 5 allows for additional funding for similar mitigation efforts.
Raj Mankad/Rice Design Alliance

This text was updated Oct. 10, 2018, to reflect that President Donald Trump signed the legislation into law. This text was updated again on Oct. 12, 2018, to reflect recent events.

If it wasn’t already clear, the past two years have emphasized that Americans need better mechanisms for dealing with extreme flooding. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Florence, and Michael flooded hundreds of thousands of homes, destroyed roads, hospitals, schools, and other critical infrastructure, and brought local economies to a standstill. Impacts of the hurricanes and other flooding disasters, which continued a decades-long trend of increasingly costly extreme weather, were not limited to the coasts: Rain-driven floods swamped inland states from Nevada to West Virginia.

In response to this new normal, Congress last week sent to the White House legislation that will give American communities new resources and guidance to limit the impact of disasters. President Donald Trump signed the legislation into law Oct. 5.

The Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 allows the president to set aside a portion of the nation’s disaster relief fund for pre-disaster mitigation projects—investments made before storms that will save lives and property when floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters strike. The bill authorizes spending an amount equivalent to as much as 6 percent of federal disaster assistance. If this policy had been in place before the major disasters of 2017, at least $650 million could have been made available to support pre-disaster mitigation projects. Such investments pay off: The National Institute of Building Sciences has determined that, on average, every $1 spent on disaster mitigation saves society $6 in future disaster costs.

The act emphasizes the importance of up-to-date building codes and makes local and state governments eligible for assistance in adopting and enforcing the codes and standards that help limit damage from disasters. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is authorized to consider a community’s adoption of these protective codes when it awards competitive grants for mitigation.

Pre-disaster mitigation funding could be used to restore wetlands, like this salt marsh in Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina, which can help absorb rising waters and limit flooding.
Rachel Gittman

Types of eligible projects include those that would elevate homes and other buildings above predicted flood heights; restore wetlands and create green space to help absorb floodwaters; and help buy out residents in at-risk areas who wish to move out of harm’s way.

Hurricane Florence was the 12th 1-in-1,000-year rainfall event in the U.S. since the beginning of 2016. It is more clear than ever that, to reduce damage and increase public safety, American communities must be better prepared for disasters. The Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 will give state and local governments more resources to proactively reduce risk, save taxpayer dollars, and protect residents across the U.S. from the ever-increasing threat of flooding.

Forbes Tompkins and Matt Fuchs are officers with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ flood-prepared communities initiative.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.