Journal Article

Federal Funding for Flood Risk Reduction in the US: Pre- or Post-Disaster?


Carolyn Kousky discusses this article in a related podcast: An Ounce of Prevention: New RFF Podcast on Federal Flood Expenditures.


This note documents the spending patterns, requirements, and limitations of the major federal programs funding flood risk reduction in the US. The Majority of these funds are appropriated post-disaster through emergency supplemental legislation in response to specific floods and storms. Far less funding comes from programs to reduce risk before a flood. Post-disaster funding has two advantages: (1) it provides dollars for “building back better,” which can be more cost effective than retrofitting undamaged building stock; and (2) people are more willing to invest in risk reduction when a recent flood makes the risk more salient. However, the chaotic, post-disaster environment may hinder spending funds effectively and efficiently with careful prioritization and scrutiny. In addition, only communities damaged by the disaster receive funds. Since flood and coastal storm risks are projected to increase as the climate warms and development continues, it will be imperative to fund effective, efficient risk reduction and help communities adapt to changing conditions. This may warrant changes to the current funding model. While we focus on US programs, the challenge of when and how much funding to allocate to flood risk reduction is faced by many nations around the world.