Proposals in President Donald Trump’s initial budget outline could have a far-reaching impact on South Jersey.
The $1.15 trillion plan submitted to Congress last week provides for a $54 billion increase in defense spending by slashing other departments and programs, including the National Flood Insurance Program and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The NFIP, which is under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provides affordable flood insurance and encourages communities to adopt floodplain regulations, according to its website.
Trump’s outline calls for eliminating $190 million in funding for the NFIP’s Flood Hazard Mapping Program. The cuts are to make sure only those who directly benefit from the program are paying for it, the budget document said.
That would result in flood insurance maps not being updated — which could lead people to unknowingly build homes in high-risk flood areas — or a move to pass the cost of the mapping process on to policyholders in the form of a surcharge, according to the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America.
Either of those outcomes could hurt the state’s real estate market, according to Jarrod Grasso, chief executive of New Jersey Realtors.
“Inaccurate flood maps have the potential to cost a homeowner thousands of dollars in unnecessary insurance premiums if the property is inaccurately placed in the wrong zone,” Grasso said.
“In a high-cost state like New Jersey, any increase to the cost of purchasing and owning a home could have a detrimental effect on the market,” he added.
More than 230,000 NFIP flood-insurance policies are in effect in New Jersey, including 54,347 in Cape May County, 51,288 in Ocean County and 29,975 in Atlantic County as of Jan. 31, according to statistics on the program’s website.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, has come out against the reduction, which he said will increase flood-insurance rates for property owners.
“South Jersey families and businesses are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy, appealing unjustified FEMA flood maps and claims decisions, and adjusting to a regional economy not fully recovered — we cannot and should not ask them to take on more of a financial burden,” LoBiondo said in a statement Thursday.
LoBiondo said he has been working with a group of lawmakers representing coastal districts ahead of the NFIP’s reauthorization date, which is Sept. 30.
Georgina Shanley, who has lived in Ocean City for 33 years, said she worries cuts to the EPA could hinder research into climate change, which she believes threatens people living on South Jersey’s barrier islands.
“As the coastline is sinking, as the seas are rising, we are in immediate danger of storms,” Shanley said. “Areas in Ocean City that never flooded are flooding.”
Trump targeted the EPA in his budget outline, calling for a 31 percent reduction in the agency’s funding. It’s a move that would lead to 3,200 fewer jobs at the agency, according to the budget document.
“He should be thinking of the next generation,” said Shanley, who co-founded the Ocean City-based Citizens United for Renewable Energy. “We are all going to be affected by climate change.”
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the president’s proposed cuts to the EPA would hurt New Jersey “more than any other state.”
He said that’s because the state Department of Environmental Protection relies on EPA funding, the high number of Superfund toxic waste sites in New Jersey and the money spent by the EPA in the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
In a statement accompanying the budget outline, Trump downplayed the potential effects of the cuts.
“These cuts are sensible and rational,” he said. “Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people.”
One organization that could be spared possible cuts is the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard didn’t warrant a mention in the budget outline, despite reports earlier this month the administration was considering significant cuts to the military branch.
The White House will release a full budget proposal later this spring, according to the outline.