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National Flood Insurance Program often pays same people flood after flood

Department of Homeland Security personnel deliver supplies to Santa Ana community residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

For John Knipper, who lives just outside of Charleston, South Carolina, this hurricane season has brought him back to an all too familiar scene.

“I find as every flood hits, my resilience diminishes a little bit,” he said in an interview several weeks ago.

This is the fourth time his home had flooded in the last two years -- which means four times he’s needed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to step in.

“Essentially they have appraisers come out and appraise the property and we would be paid for the value of our property,” he said.

His is one of 150,000 properties in the United States considered a repetitive loss property.

“A repetitive loss property is a property that has flooded more than twice in the past ten years,” said Laura Lightbody, Director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Prepared Communities Initiative.

These types of properties make up one percent of the policyholders of the national flood insurance program, but 30 percent of its cost, according to Pew’s Research.

“There’s a little bit of a perverse incentive for homeowners living in flood risk areas to continue to live there,” Lightbody said.

The National Flood Insurance Program’s debt has nearly ballooned to nearly 30 billion dollars.

“We have a mandate to provide this product to any homeowner who seeks it,” said Roy Wright, Director of the National Flood Insurance Program, in an interview Friday.

He said Congress has directed FEMA to accept everyone who applies and to provide discounts to about 20 percent of those policyholders; a policy he says Congress has so far been unwilling to change.

“There have to be changes to this program. We need to make room for the water. We likely need to do some kind of buyout for them so they can restart their life somewhere else in the community,” Wright said.

More than two months after Hurricane Harvey, some residents still wait for help -- many relying on a 50-year-old program now drowning in debt.

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