By Dennis Ross
Natural disasters strike often. We Floridians understand this fact of life. Our schools periodically conduct hurricane drills, radio stations test emergency broadcast systems, and our meteorologists frequently use the words "tropical storm" or "hurricane."
Whether it's a hurricane, tornado or flood, like we have in Florida, or whether it's a blizzard, earthquake or wildfire, natural disasters regularly affect people all across the country. When a disaster strikes, the lives that people and families have built are at stake, and they can be lost and belongings destroyed.
There is the fear of the unknown. Is help going to come today? Tomorrow? Next week? After the tragedy, families are left waiting on insurance companies, and the expectation that the government will provide taxpayer-supported disaster recovery assistance during the most extreme circumstances.
So much is out of the homeowners' control because they are left depending on others for what they need.
That's why I introduced the Disaster Savings Account Act. It would give more control and flexibility to homeowners by allowing them to set aside some of their money each year for disaster mitigation. With this tax-free money, they would be free to purchase items that increase the safety of their homes, like concrete-fortified walls, storm shutters or generators. It allows and incentivizes people to plan ahead to protect their families and their belongings.
USA Today and The Associated Press reported that between January 2004 and the end of October 2004, more than 1 in 5 homes in Florida were damaged by hurricanes. Given that the United States is more than $17 trillion in debt and that, according to FEMA, only 50 percent of disasters trigger federal assistance, it is becoming increasingly vital for individuals to have the ability to plan ahead to protect their families and belongings. My bill provides that opportunity.
In addition to protecting your belongings and loved ones, planning ahead saves money.
Taking certain disaster mitigation steps might lower your insurance rates. For example, say you purchase shatter-proof window panes. Not only will this protect you in the future, it may decrease your insurance rates immediately.
Since 1989, the federal government has spent nearly $309 billion of taxpayer dollars to rebuild communities across the nation after natural disasters, a number that doesn't even include continuous disaster assistance following catastrophic events such as hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.
Every dollar spent by homeowners in fortifying their residences against a potential calamity saves up to $4 of taxpayer money in future disaster-related expenses.
This is just one of the ways I'm working to find solutions for homeowners in the wake of a disaster like a hurricane or flood. It's giving the control and power back to the people so that they can make wise decisions and aren't forced to completely rely upon the government after the fact.
And while we don't know very far in advance exactly where or when a disaster will strike, we can plan ahead for its arrival.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, represents the 15th District, which includes parts of Hillsborough and Polk counties.