Papa Knowles Gets Over Like Fat Rat

Thanks to FEMA, Matthew Knowles has a few more sheckles in his pocket.

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Matthew Knowles, father of obscure pop singer Beyonce Knowles, is about to pocket $425,00 from a house damaged by Hurricane Ike. FEMA says there's nothing wrong with that.

Knowles' bailout is far from unique. In the name of disaster relief, the federal government routinely subsidizes some of the country's wealthiest and most irresponsible property owners. In Texas alone this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is spending $100 million to buy and demolish more than 750 flood-prone buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program, many of them expensive waterfront homes. The land will be permanently set aside as open space.

FEMA argues that the buyout program will easily pay for itself. After all, the NFIP is already on the hook to repair many of the properties, most of which private insurers have long been too smart to cover. In 1993, FEMA realized that repairing similarly flood-prone homes along the Mississippi River was costing more than they were worth. Over the next eight years, a buyout program that targeted some of the swampiest properties achieved a 200 percent return on investment, FEMA says, preventing millions in insurance claims across the Midwest.

But along the Gulf Coast, FEMA's buyouts make much less sense. Here's the problem: FEMA is still insuring new homes that are all but certain to be underwater by the end of the century, submerged by a three-foot rise in sea level caused by climate change.  Until FEMA starts accounting for climate change, its buyout program provides homeowners with a strong incentive to ignore the problem. Why worry about sea level rise when you know that, in the worst case scenario, the government will pick up the tab?