Imagine a scenario in which New Jersey residents impacted by last month’s Nor’easter could not rely on flood insurance to help them rebuild their homes and businesses. Unless Congress takes action soon, this nightmare scenario could become a reality.

The struggling federal flood insurance system is a man-made disaster more than a decade in the making, as extreme weather events have become costlier while federal policy has not adapted to their new reality. As a result, the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides more than 236,000 flood insurance plans in New Jersey, has been slammed with repeated waves of massive insurance payouts. The program is now $23.5 billion in debt with further losses on the horizon.

Without reforms that can put the program on a fiscally sustainable course and account for future risks, flood insurance could soon collapse and leave New Jersey property owners and millions of other Americans in flood-prone areas without coverage. With the National Flood Insurance Program up for reauthorization in 2017, lawmakers need to prioritize fixing the program before it drowns in debt.

Congress can start now by taking steps to inject more private insurers into the flood insurance market, which will move risks and costs from taxpayers to the private capital markets. More competition in the flood insurance market would result in better rates and higher coverage limits for New Jersey policyholders, making rebuilding easier the next time a severe storm hits the coast.

Lawmakers should also explore over time phasing out flood insurance subsidies and moving the National Flood Insurance Program to a system of risk-based rates derived from updated and accurate flood maps that reflect the true danger and costs of building in flood-prone areas. And to better protect lives and property, we need to focus more on incentivizing storm mitigation efforts before a disaster strikes, which includes providing financial assistance to lower-income policyholders so they can more effectively prepare for the risks of future storms.

New Jersey residents know these risks all too well. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy upended hundreds of communities and thousands of lives while causing nearly $30 billion in damage throughout the state and ballooning the insurance program’s debt load. With extreme weather a modern-day reality, maintaining a viable flood insurance program must be a top priority.

Disaster policy reform is a nonpartisan issue that all lawmakers should be able to rally around, and it is long past time to move forward with reforms that will save lives, protect property and reduce the costs of recovery after future storms.

New Jersey residents can take action by demanding their representatives in Congress prioritize these reforms today so the state can avoid a major crisis tomorrow.

(Published in the Press of Atlantic City)