May 24, 2014
A year has passed since Oklahoma experienced the devastating tornadoes that touched down in Shawnee and Moore, taking 25 lives and leveling whole neighborhoods. We’re again in the middle of tornado season, yet many Oklahomans still face the searing pain of loss from the 2013 storms. The last thing that should be on their minds is how to afford the rebuilding of their lives or surviving another potential severe storm this year.
The 2013 storms caused $2 billion in property damage. Since last May, Oklahomans’ insurance has covered roughly $1 billion in recovery efforts, according to the Oklahoma Insurance Department. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also stepped in with $37 million in disaster recovery funds, but all this assistance has still left Oklahomans covering hundreds of millions of dollars in damage expenses out of pocket.
This led me to introduce (in February) the Disaster Savings Accounts (DSA) Act. The legislation would give homeowners the opportunity to deposit funds into tax-preferred savings accounts to help with recovery costs in the aftermath of a state or federally declared disaster. For many, this would bridge the gap between out-of-pocket costs and when homeowners insurance kicks in. The funds would be eligible for a maximum annual tax deduction of up to $5,000; any unused funds at the end of the year could be rolled over to the next.
While surveying the tornado damage, Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis told me that what his city would need to move forward was a sense of security that people had access to resources to rebuild in their communities and to be safe for future tornado seasons.
This is also why my legislation targets the need to help Oklahomans adequately prepare for future severe weather in order to bring down the cost of recovery and save lives. According to the Congressional Budget Office, pre-disaster mitigation programs have been estimated to reduce future losses by roughly $3 for every $1 spent on the project. With funds set aside under the DSA Act, homeowners could also use the money for preparation expenses, such as storm shelters or wind- resistant doors and windows.
Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak has endorsed the legislation, saying it would help ease the financial burden on Oklahomans so that they can best prepare for the variance of severe weather we experience through the year. And should there be a long recovery process, the legislation could help prevent Oklahomans from heading toward bankruptcy as they rebuild.
Since last year, FEMA has issued three disaster declarations for Oklahoma. With the DSA Act, rather than waiting for an unknown period of time for government assistance, families would have the financial support to begin rebuilding their homes and their lives immediately. The DSA Act would foster an environment of stability and security.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is Oklahoma’s senior U.S. senator.