Disaster Relief (Point/Counterpoint (Chelsea Hardcover))

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The registrant made a FEMA claim using a post office box address in Louisiana as his damaged property address to qualify for IHP payments for expedited assistance, rental assistance, and personal property replacement. Two of these payments were made via checks sent to the address he falsely claimed as his current residence, and the final payment was sent via electronic funds transfer EFT to someone who also listed the same current address on the checking account.

The unique circumstances of the hurricane season further opened the door for fraud because the president declared areas hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita to be disaster areas. Because Rita struck before people had rebuilt from Katrina, FEMA supposedly instituted a policy to ensure that the agency did not make relief payments to the same people for both hurricanes.

Following so closely on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, Rita caused destruction in many areas of Louisiana that already had seen damage. In five of the six cases where we performed investigative work, the same individual received duplicate payments to replace the same damaged property. The individuals also failed to provide FEMA with evidence that they had replaced 71 72 Disaster relief the items or conducted repair work after Hurricane Katrina, only to have those items or that work destroyed again by Hurricane Rita.

In all cases, FEMA performed its first physical inspection of the damaged property after the passing of both hurricanes. FEMA offers people money to cover the cost of renting temporary housing. Perhaps the accelerated response policy made FEMA look more responsible in the short run, but in truth, it simply squandered resources that ought to have been targeted more responsibly to those in crisis.

Direct payments to individuals are only part of the complete federal disaster relief package. For example, FEMA housed people in trailers and also provided local and state governments with funds to rent apartments to house people displaced by Katrina. Many people continued to receive the monetary payments meant to cover the cost of rent for months after they began living rent-free in FEMA trailers or in apartments rented with FEMA funds.

In other words, although they were not paying rent, they continued to receive taxpayer money to compensate them for nonexistent rental expenses.

Disaster Relief (Point/Counterpoint (Chelsea Hardcover))

Although some of the payments were based on fraudulent claims, FEMA officials actually reported to GAO that they did not believe that the initial rental assistance payment, provided to cover the first few months of rental housing, should be considered a duplication of benefits if it was provided to trailer residents.

FEMA officials argued that this amount is designed to assist disaster victims in moving from temporary emergency housing into a normal apartment or home lease situation.

As to the apartments rented by local or state governments, the GAO report stated that the investigating agency could not evaluate the extent to which duplicate payments had been made because FEMA did not maintain adequate data. FEMA relied on local and state governments to provide information on the people living in FEMAfunded apartments and did not require these governments to collect information about the people living in the apartments 73 74 Disaster relief until after they had moved in—and possibly had already moved out. FEMA also paid for people to stay in hotel rooms and did not verify that people staying in FEMA-paid hotel rooms were not also receiving rental assistance.

Summary Although the process of rebuilding from Katrina and Rita will take years, and the Gulf Coast continues to request outside assistance, an examination of federal spending in the wake of the storms revealed waste and fraud. In their haste to make payments to hurricane victims, FEMA did little to verify that people requesting money had been affected by the storm and were not receiving other forms of relief.

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Additionally, post-disaster financial relief is a double-edged sword, in that people are less likely to responsibly prepare themselves for a future disaster. The next chapters look at the National Flood Insurance Program, one example of a program that attempts to protect people in advance from the financial hardships associated with disaster. Reed and her husband, having experienced several hurricanes while previously living in Virginia Beach, Virginia, decided to protect themselves against hurricane damage.

Because he did not live in a high-risk flood zone, he decided to not purchase an additional flood insurance policy.

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Fortunately for the family, the damage to their home and their lost belongings were paid for by the flood insurance they had purchased. In , Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program NFIP as a means of protecting homeowners from the devastating losses that can often be caused by flooding. Recounting the history of the program, Chad Berginnis of the Association of State Floodplain Managers noted that Congress designed the program to encourage communities and homeowners to build homes to be better protected against flood damage.

Through it, relief from the impacts of flood damages in the form of federally-backed flood insurance became available to citizens in participating communities contingent on flood loss reduction measures embodied in state and local floodplain management regulations. Occupants of existing structures in flood-prone areas would benefit from subsidized flood insurance premiums, but occupants of new structures would have to pay actuarially based premiums.

This was based on the concept that those already living in the floodplain did not understand the flood risk involved in their locational decisions, but future occupants would through information The NFIP Must Be Maintained or Expanded provided by the NFIP—via flood studies and maps. The original program would be voluntary in terms of community participation and the purchase of flood insurance. These are rates based on the risk of flood loss, as determined by insurance officials, taking into account the likelihood of flooding and the way the house was built.

Flood risk is based on flood maps that are created for communities that have chosen to participate in the program. By calculating insurance rates based on flood risk, people would have an incentive to build in areas that had a lower risk—and therefore a lower insurance rate. The success of any insurance program depends on the sale of a large number of policies, so that the risk of having to pay out a claim is spread out among a number of policies.

If policies are purchased by only a few people who are at risk of flood loss, the likelihood is that the insurance company will need to pay out more money than it is making. Therefore, to encourage more communities to participate in the program and more individual homeowners to purchase flood insurance, Congress made some changes to the law in First, communities would have to participate in the program in order to receive any type of construction assistance from the federal government.

Second, anyone who purchased a home using a mortgage home loan backed by the federal government—as a significant percentage of mortgages are—would have to purchase flood insurance. The enormous damages caused by Hurricane Katrina, not to mention Hurricane Rita in the same year, put a great deal of financial strain on the flood insurance program.

Previously, FEMA had touted the program as self-supporting. In years in which losses are severe, however, the program borrows money from the federal government to pay claims. As you know, the program does not receive appropriations to pay for its operations. However, flood losses for a specific year can vary significantly from this average. Treasury to pay for those losses. Whenever we have to borrow from the Treasury to pay for historically high losses, we must repay with interest what we borrowed.

Supporters of NFIP note that one of the original intents of the program was to reduce the costs of disaster relief borne by the federal government.

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Without NFIP, the federal government might have spent even more on relief. The grants would be used to address the needs of homeowners. The availability of flood insurance allows people to build homes in desirable areas. Steven Feldmann, the director of community affairs for a homebuilder in suburban Cincinnati, testified before Congress on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders that the NFIP is essential to community development.

For a typical homeowner with a year mortgage, buying or building a home in a year floodplain means that the chance of flooding is greater than 1 in 4 during the life of the year mortgage.


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With the risk of flooding so high, the government does not want to lend money to a homeowner in a Zone A location without flood insurance, out of fear that the lender will not repay the loan if the house is destroyed by flood. According to Feldmann, allowing homeowners to build in areas of their choice, even if the risk of flooding is elevated, allows the development of communities based on personal preferences, such as the desire to live near water.

The NFIP, by enabling the choice of purchasing a home in a floodplain, allows consumer preferences to shape towns and cities into communities that maximize quality of life and economic development. Banishing building from these areas would mean that less land would be available for building, and the reduction in supply would inevitably result in an increase in price for land on which houses could be built.

Many communities would be unable to provide affordable housing to many of their citizens. Despite a decade of unprecedented prosperity, many communities are seeing a growing gap between the supply and demand for housing. Families across the economic spectrum are finding it increasingly difficult to find a home that meets their needs.


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  8. One of the leading causes of the housing affordability problem is the shortage of buildable land. By guaranteeing affordable flood insurance, the NFIP allows communities to use land that would otherwise be too costly due to high flood insurance premiums. Through the NFIP, flood insurance policies remain available and affordable and residential structures can be constructed in floodplains as long as they are built to withstand flooding.

    Therefore the NFIP provides the means by which communities can address housing needs by making homeownership in areas prone to flooding safe, affordable and practical.

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    Broadening mandatory participation would strengthen NFIP. Despite all of the incentives that Congress has established to encourage people to buy flood insurance, not everyone buys or maintains flood insurance. Only people who use a federally backed mortgage to buy a home located in a high-risk flood zone i. People in lower risk zones do not have to purchase this insurance. Some people buy homes using a mortgage not backed by the federal government. Others do not have a mortgage at all—for instance, if they paid cash value for the house or inherited the house; some may have already paid off the mortgage.

    Even people who are required by law to maintain flood insurance do not always maintain the required coverage.

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    Although the government has improved measures to ensure that brokers who sell federally backed mortgages require homeowners to obtain and maintain flood insurance, a study by the RAND Corporation estimated that, nationwide, 75 to 80 percent of homeowners required by law to have flood insurance actually have it. This suggests that most people purchase flood insurance when they buy their homes, but many allow the policies to lapse at some point during the life of the mortgage.

    More significantly, say supporters of NFIP, too few people are paying into the system. As a result of the relatively low percentage of at-risk homeowners who carry flood insurance, NFIP has less revenue from selling policies and is less able to support itself in the case of large-scale disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Proposals to increase the number of people participating in NFIP fall into three main categories: Although the risk is smaller, the damage from a major flood can be just as severe, and homeowners in lower-risk areas can purchase flood insurance at much lower rates.

    Various proposals have been made to increase participation requirements. Pamela Mayer Pogue, a state floodplain manager for Rhode Island, testified before Congress about extending the mandatory purchase requirement for people with federally backed mortgages to homes located in a year floodplain areas with a 0. She argued that people living in year floodplains have a false sense of security that causes them to reject the purchase of flood insurance.

    The Director [of FEMA] may, subject to the limitations of this section, provide financial assistance to States and communities that decide to participate in the pilot program established under this section for taking actions with respect to severe repetitive loss properties. The cost of such a policy would be commensurate with the lower risk of flooding, yet the property owner, states, communities, and the U. Many supported tying these increases to a stipulation that more people be required to purchase flood insurance. Such proposals were killed by strong opposition from realtors, mortgage lenders, and homebuilders, who argued that the requirements would harm potential homebuyers.

    Without a federal program, homeowners would be at great risk. NFIP exists because very few private insurance companies are willing to provide flood insurance to homeowners. Congress created NFIP in as a solution to the absence of private insurance and the pressing need to protect homeowners from flood damage. In the past, the federal government has recognized that protecting people in flood-prone areas is an important national interest. Although the areas around rivers were indeed prone to flooding, their development as commercial and residential centers was justified by the proximity of navigable waterways.