Money Mondays: The Financial Impact Of Hurricanes



A very important topic – the financial impacts of this hurricane season. What are we looking at here?

 Obviously, these storms – Harvey, Irma and most recently Maria – have been incredibly destructive and impacted many millions of people across the Caribbean and the United States. The combination of their intensity, the fact that they occurred within weeks of one another, and their geographic tracks have really amplified their physical and economic impacts. As a result, we are likely to see the effects of these storms last for many years to come.

 Let’s start with the damage that has been done. What is the dollar amount?

 Depending on how it is calculated, estimates vary. Estimates for the cost of Hurricane Harvey’s damage range from $65 billion to $190 billion, the latter of which would make it the costliest natural disaster in us history. The numbers Hurricane Irma range from $50 billion to $100 billion.

Estimates from Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last week are still being formulated, but from what we are seeing thus far, the storm destroyed much of the island, which is the 29th most populous state or territory. The costs will certainly be in the tens of billions of dollars. For some context, Hurricane Katrina caused around $150 billion in damages. There is no doubt this will end up being the costliest hurricane season in history by a huge margin.

 These are incredible numbers. Who pays for all of this?

The first checks are likely to come from government agencies. Federal recovery funds go to states and local government to secure housing and medical care for individual. On top of that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, through the National Flood Insurance Program, will begin delivering funds. After these initial government dollars, money for infrastructure repair and other projects will begin to flow. Finally, if people don’t have insurance, or their policy doesn’t cover all damage, then the federal government may provide personal grants and loans.

In addition to the government, private insurance companies chip in. Private homeowner insurance policies usually are invoked for a storm’s wind damage. Most of Irma and Maria’s damage was caused by wind. Since 95% of people buy homeowners insurance, a significant portion of the costs will come from private insurers.

Finally, if the government and the insurance companies do not cover all the costs, it comes out of the pockets of individuals and charities.

How is the economy affected?

 The costs of these storms are large enough that they will likely have a significant impact on the U.S. economy. Third quarter growth, which many firms like Moody’s and Goldman Sachs had estimated would come in around 2.8 percent, is almost certain to take a hit. Goldman has revised their estimates down to just 2 percent in the wake of these storms.

In terms of the economies of the areas affected, most sectors recover quickly. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s, said of Houston that “eighty percent of the economy will be back in six months, 90% in a year, 100% three years from now.” In the meantime, however, there will be gaps.

The storms are already affecting the job market. The federal government released numbers that show initial jobless claims jumped from 62,000 to 298,000 in just one week, the highest they have been in more than two years. Some of these job losses will be short-term, but others may last for months or years. In the wake of Katrina, New Orleans saw its unemployment rate stay high for months.

If you were affected by these storms, what should you do?

 If you have been impacted by these hurricanes, or any other natural disaster, the first thing you need to do is file your insurance claims as fast as you can! Take the necessary pictures and fill out only the bare minimum documentation you need. Do not wait to make sure you have every piece of documentation or minor forms.

Insurance claims are handled on a first-come, first-served basis, so you want to file as early as possible. There will be time dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s after you file. And, those first in line generally encounter fewer hurdles from their insurance company.

Beyond this, you should also work to get repair estimates before your insurance adjuster arrives. This can help them to be more realistic about their figures. Finally, keep receipts for everything from food to lodging for the recovery period, as you may be able to have these costs reimbursed through your insurance or other channels. If you have uninsured property losses, you should contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA can assist uninsured residents with immediate shelter needs and also in the rebuilding process.

In the longer term, you need to review your insurance needs! Everyone thinks “it won’t be me” until it happens to them. You want to be prepared.

Mellody Hobson is President of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts. Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News.

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