Adaptation Funding in New England

Evaluating FEMA and HUD grants, flood insurance and property value loss in the New England Region.

Funding and Responding to Climate Risks

As the risks of flooding increase, and extreme weather events become more common, questions arise about where funding should be directed, how it should be managed between disaster responsiveness and pre-disaster adaptation, and the governance levels from which it can be accessed. Communities on the coasts and inland face risk, in terms of properties, infrastructure and livelihoods. While municipalities like Boston conduct cost-benefit analysis to prioritize adaptation projects, higher-level Federal funding is often provided immediately post-disaster.

Currently, funding to mitigate and address these risks is reactive, where public entities and individual insurance policyholders receive Federal recovery funding following disasters, rather than funding for protective and adaptive measures. In addition, there are few cohesive regional efforts to plan for climate-related risks.

We explore the distribution and adequacy of Federal funding relative to geography and allocated purpose, as well as the possibility of adaptation-centered planning.

Planning for Adaptation in Boston

In major cities like Boston, billions of dollars of building stock is susceptible to this risk. The City of Boston’s “Climate Ready Boston” initiative currently conceptualizes loss via property values. The calculus of this cost-benefit analysis often leads to the prioritization of high value properties, a well documented phenomenon.

Assessed values for 2018 are shown below:

Notes: Data are taken from the City of Boston Assessor parcels for 2018 . We sum the assessed value of parcels for 2018, including both the value of the building as well as the land itself. Values are summed by block group as depicted by the U.S. Census, for 2017

While cities like Boston are considering adaptation on the basis of local property loss, Federal funding is often directed towards reactive hazard mitigation and disaster relief: This funding is provided at a much larger jurisdictional scale, in reaction to disasters and extreme weather events that affect entire regions. Local governments are often ineligible to apply for Federal money without the involvement of state governments. Therefore, we shift our scale from potential losses at the municipal level to examine funding for the entire region.


Turning to New England

The New England region includes the states of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont. The map below shows potential flood risk areas on a regional basis based on FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer. Considering the region’s high coastline and shoreline exposure, economic contribution, total population, and recent storm events climate risk will be an important factor to consider when planning for the future.


Overall GDP


Number of Municipalities


Total Population:

473 miles

Total ocean coastline

6,130 miles

Total shoreline

Notes: We aggregate the state-level National Flood Hazard Layer files. We depict all land areas that are designated as Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). SFHA are defined as the area that will be inundated by the flood event having a 1-percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year (see FEMA designations here .

Federal Funding: Reacting to Climate-Related Disasters

States, counties and in some cases, municipalities, receive Federal funding for disaster recovery and hazard mitigation. A large amount of funding comes from HUD as well as FEMA. We show how these are allocated between states and agencies in the diagram below. Specifically, we show funding from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program, Public Assistance Funded Projects, Emergency Management Performance Grant Programs. Of these three programs, a Presidential Disaster Declaration must be in effect for Hazard Mitigation and Public Assistance funds to be made available. We also depict FEMA payouts from the National Flood Insurance Program. For HUD, we show funding from the agency’s disaster recovery grant program. Funding are aggregated from 2008-2018.

Note: We depict three FEMA grant programs: a.) Hazard Mitigation Assistance : “The purpose of HMGP is to help communities implement hazard mitigation measures following a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration in the areas of the state, tribe, or territory requested by the Governor or Tribal Executive. The key purpose of this grant program is to enact mitigation measures that reduce the risk of loss of life and property from future disasters.” b.) Public Assistance Funded Projects : “FEMA provides supplemental federal disaster grant assistance for debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement, or restoration of disaster-damaged publicly-owned facilities...the PA program also encourages protection of these damaged facilities from future events by providing assistance for hazard mitigation measures.” c.) Emergency Management: “...grants for the purpose of providing a system of emergency preparedness for the protection of life and property in the United States from hazards.” We also include payout values from the National Flood Insurance Program. We depict funding from HUD’s Community Block Development Grant - Disaster Recovery Action Plan Grant Program: “HUD provides flexible grants to help cities, counties, and States recover from Presidentially declared disasters, especially in low-income areas, subject to availability of supplemental appropriations.” Funding are for 2008-2018, presented in 2017$, adjusted via ENR’s Construction Cost Index. In cases where project fiscal year is not available, we allocate the amount to the project start date. We note that these are not exhaustive to climate and disaster related funding

FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is the highest funded program of the individual programs shown above. Through this program, individual homeowners and businesses receive payouts on subsidized insurance policies in the event of disaster. Rather than funding adaptive measures, a large share of Federal funds pictured below go towards payouts to individual homeowners and businesses following disasters. This reactive means of addressing risks treats flooding as an outcome with a given probability, rather than an ever increasing possibility.

“Investments in adaptation are likely to be among the largest expenditures we make as a region over the next generation, but we have neither a plan or a budget for them.”

“Coastal Adaptation - A Framework for Governance and Funding to Address Climate Change” (Regional Plan Association, 2017)

Shortfalls Following Disasters in New England

Disaster recovery itself is also underfunded. States that receive HUD disaster recovery funding must submit action plans to the Federal agency for review. In these action plans, states detail unmet needs for housing and public infrastructure. The following bar graph shows the value of Federal, state and other grant funding allocated, and the resulting shortfall for the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island following Hurricane Sandy and for the state of Vermont, following flooding as a result of Tropical Storm Irene. We adapt this methodology from Keenan (2018).

Note: Plans for New Hampshire and Maine do not appear to be publicly available. We sum unmet need for housing and infrastructure assistance, as well as funding provided by Federal and local matching sources. We do not include support for commercial entities via the Small Business Administration or agriculture via USDA. We do not attempt to adjust dollar values upward to 2017, and report them as listed in the plans: MA (updated 2016), CT (updated 2015), RI (updated 2018) and Vermont (updated 2012).

Shortfalls in the National Flood Insurance Program

Relatedly, the National Flood Insurance Program is fiscally unsound, and unable to sustain itself. A recent analysis from the Congressional Budget Office also showed that coastal counties are set to experience severe shortfalls between National Flood Insurance Program premiums and payouts. These shortfalls also demonstrate the need for more adaptive planning, especially in the wake of Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.

Note: We provide a graphic depicting the Congressional Budget Office’s Analysis (2017) of the National Flood Insurance Program. Specifically, the graphic is reproduced from the summary located here.

“The flood insurance program was originally intended to be self sustaining — funded through policyholder premiums, not taxpayer dollars — and for much of its history, it was. But the catastrophic hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012 caused so much damage that the program could not pay for it all. After Hurricane Katrina, Congress increased FEMA’s borrowing authority from $2 billion to more than $20 billion. They increased it again, to $30 billion, after Hurricane Sandy. The program’s debt to the U.S. Treasury is now $23 billion.”

PBS in partnership with NPR; May 24, 2016


While cities consider adaptive measures based on potential local property losses, it is unclear how these adaptive measures will be funded. Meanwhile, the Federal government provides funding at a larger scale, oftentimes post-disaster. Very little funding is adaptive, and recovery funding is not enough, both for disaster recovery grant programs as well as for the subsidized policies of the National Flood Insurance Program. These problems will only worsen as the risks increase.