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Why flood insurance claims were so low after Hurricane Maria

From left: Aerial shots of hurricane damage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Photos: AP

As of Oct. 25, FEMA had paid $2.8 billion in federal assistance under the National Flood Insurance Program to people affected by Hurricane Harvey and $179 million to those in the path of Hurricane Irma — but just $121,000 to people in the areas devastated by Maria, per early estimates FEMA provided to Axios. That's because FEMA received 180 times as many claims from Harvey victims as Maria victims.

The big picture: Flood insurance is not available to much of Puerto Rico. Buying flood insurance under the federal program requires municipalities and counties to maintain reasonable flood standards, which may pose too high a cost for most counties on the island, according to R.J. Lehmann, an expert on insurance and financial service policy at the R Street Institute, a free market think tank. "It really comes down to this: Puerto Rico doesn't buy flood insurance because Puerto Rico is very poor," Lehmann said.