Insure and Mitigate Before Disaster Strikes
Storm surges and tidal floods, high winds, heavy rains, even tornadoes. The dangers brought ashore by hurricanes can be devastating—and costly. The damages inflicted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which hit parts of Texas, Florida and the Caribbean islands in 2017, totaled $265 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Still being calculated are the damages caused by Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which struck North Carolina and Florida, respectively, this fall.
To help communities become more resilient, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with state emergency management agencies and other partner organizations to communicate a better understanding of weather-related risks and how to prepare for and even prevent their damaging effects. These efforts are key to reducing suffering from disasters.
Insurance. Floods occur in every state. Still, flood insurance policies are often viewed as optional. The lack of policies in the areas hit by Florence and Michael, for example, will affect recovery, FEMA says. That those areas were underinsured is not unusual. On average, only 30 percent of residential structures in the highest risk flood areas are insured.
Insurance is the best resource for recovery, according to FEMA. Even if a presidential disaster declaration is made, federal assistance may be limited, which can be especially burdensome on those with uninsured properties. After Harvey, the average flood insurance claim paid more than $100,000, while the average disaster grant from FEMA was less than $10,000. Insurance leads to a quicker, more complete recovery.
Mitigation. Mitigation is critical to reducing damages, and proactive land-use planning and improved building codes are two effective mitigation strategies. Only 33 percent of jurisdictions have approved building codes with disaster provisions. Adopting and enforcing strong codes will help ensure that structures are built stronger and safer before, and after, a disaster.
Insurance and mitigation are not just for homes, FEMA says. Disaster aid provides billions of dollars for repair and mitigation of public and private infrastructure, which can also be insured. The National Institute of Building Sciences found that, on average, every $1 spent on federally funded hazard mitigation grants saves $6 in future disaster costs.
That translates to cost savings, reductions in disaster losses and, with insurance coverage for buildings and infrastructure, a faster economic recovery for the community than relying solely on disaster aid.
Gift Cards Linked to Drug Overdoses
An observant Tennessee sheriff’s deputy told his state legislators in 2017 that he almost always recovers gift cards from several stores when he responds to a drug overdose call. That sparked a probe into the relationship between the two.
Investigators discovered that organized criminal rings recruit shoplifters to steal merchandise from retail stores, then enlist addicts and homeless people (with the promise of drugs or money) to return the items for gift cards. Ultimately, the ringleaders sell the cards for cash.
In March 2017, 16 of 19 overdose victims sold gift cards for cash in Knox County, Tenn., with similar rates in the city of Knoxville, according to a CNBC report that includes data from NCSL. One person in Knox County fraudulently earned $96,000 in one year from selling cards to a retail storefront. That criminal was connected to more than $250,000 in stolen merchandise.
These facts, along with an estimated annual loss of $14 million in sales tax revenue due to theft involving gift cards, helped persuade Tennessee lawmakers to act. The Legislature passed a series of bills, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R) and Representative Jason Zachary (R), to give law enforcement officers additional tools to find and arrest card-fraud ringleaders. The legislation requires retailers to monitor the resale of gift cards, enhances penalties for the ringleaders and builds a statewide database to help target retail theft and lost sales tax revenue.
Tennessee is hardly the only state with a gift card fraud problem. Sophisticated criminal rings throughout the U.S. are coercing homeless and addicted people to do their dirty work, CNBC reports.
Last year, Oklahoma closed a case of gift card fraud after two years of investigation. Based on figures from the National Retail Federation, one resale card shop was linked to 60,000 cards gained from stolen merchandise, equating to losses of $9 million in revenue to local retailers, $900,000 in sales tax revenue to the state and $750,000 in sales tax revenue to Oklahoma City.
The impact of gift card fraud is significant in parts of the country where opioid-related drug overdoses are at record levels. Monitoring card sales, as Tennessee is now doing, won’t end the opioid epidemic. But it might make it more difficult for crime rings to prey on vulnerable populations. And it might help reduce the number of drug overdoses.
—Sarah Adaire, legislative assistant
America’s Diverse Future
The nation’s future growth will come thanks largely to racial minorities.
Using new census statistics, the Brookings Institution projects that the nation will become “minority white” in 2045, when whites will make up 49.7 percent of the population, Hispanics 24.6 percent, blacks 13.1 percent, Asians 7.9 percent, and multiracial groups 3.8 percent.
Between 2018 and 2060, combined racial minority populations will grow by 74 percent. Also during that period, the white population will increase modestly through 2024, then experience a long-term decline through 2060, a result of more deaths than births.
Among minority groups, the greatest growth is projected for multiracial, Asian and Hispanic populations, with 2018-60 growth rates of 176, 93 and 86 percent, respectively. The projected growth rate for blacks is 34 percent.
Halting High Times on the Highway
Canada just hogged the pot-light.
Passage of the Cannabis Act in October made our friendly neighbor to the north the world’s second country, after Uruguay in 2013, to allow a nationwide marijuana market.
The Canadians’ move comes as U.S. state lawmakers continue to wrestle with the pros and cons of legalization. One of their challenges is to develop and refine legislation that addresses driving under the influence of marijuana.
Detection of marijuana in drivers involved in traffic crashes has become increasingly common. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12.6 percent of weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for THC in 2013-14, compared with 8.6 percent in 2007.
Currently, marijuana is most commonly detected by testing blood, urine or saliva. But testing for impairment is problematic due to the limitations of drug-detecting technology and the lack of an agreed-upon impairment limit. The mere presence of THC does not indicate impairment; marijuana’s main psychoactive component can stay in the system for weeks, no longer causing intoxication. Another challenge in tracking marijuana-impaired driving is that drivers who may be under the influence of marijuana and alcohol often are cited for high blood alcohol concentration but rarely tested for other substances.
Some states are exploring better ways to collect crash and citation data to enhance DUID legislation and enforcement. A 2017 Colorado law, for example, requires that DUI and DUID cases involving drugs, alcohol or a combination of both be reported to the legislature for analysis.
For now, though, approaches to marijuana-impaired driving laws vary by state.
Full-Time Daylight Delight?
Most of us “fell back” at 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4, when once again we adjusted all our clocks and watches back one hour to standard time and tried to use the extra hour for something wonderful. A growing number of critics, however, are questioning the benefits of the well-established practice of flipping between daylight and standard times twice a year. Switching back and forth is not only a nuisance, they argue, it also disrupts a person’s natural circadian rhythms, which is bad for health in the couple of days following a change.
Daylight saving can be traced back to at least World War I, but wasn’t established nationwide until the Uniform Time Act was passed in 1966 to save on energy costs. The act allows a state legislature to exempt itself from observing daylight saving time but does not let states observe it permanently.
The current system is in practice in 48 states—Arizona, Hawaii, some Amish communities, and the American territories don’t use it—but every year brings more legislation to change it. In 2016, 13 states considered 22 bills; in 2017, 18 states considered 39 bills and resolutions; and, as of August, 25 states were considering 39 bills or resolutions.
Some bills propose getting rid of daylight time altogether; others aim to adopt it full time. The issue appears to be not so much which time to adopt but to stop flipping between the two twice a year.
Proponents of staying on daylight saving time all year argue that more daylight makes driving safer, reduces crime and helps productivity.
So far this year, a handful of bills or resolutions have passed and some are pending, but most have failed. Alabama lawmakers urged Congress to permanently adopt daylight time. Florida legislators declared their intent to go to daylight time full time, when allowed. Legislatures in Louisiana and South Carolina decided to study the issue further.
And in California voters just approved a ballot measure to essentially end daylight saving time by requiring the state to add an hour to current daylight saving time.
PROS AND CONS
Upside of Daylight Time
- It’s safer. More daylight lowers car accident rates and the risk of pedestrians being hit by vehicles.
- It’s good for the economy. More daylight means more people shopping after work, increasing retail sales, and more people driving, increasing gas and snack sales.
- It promotes active lifestyles. When the day is lighter later, people tend to participate in more outdoor activities after work or school.
Downsides of Switching
- It’s bad for your health. One study found that the risk of a heart attack increases 10 percent the Monday and Tuesday following the spring change.
- It hurts productivity. The week after the spring change sees an increase in “cyberloafing” (wasting time on the internet) because employees are tired.
- It’s expensive. One economist found that the simple act of changing clocks costs Americans $1.7 billion in lost opportunity cost based on average hourly wages.