Last Week Tonight’s new segment on flood insurance is extremely timely, considering the water damage recently done by hurricanes in Houston, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. Or as host John Oliver put it: “Floods were everywhere this summer. Think of them as the ‘Despacito’ of natural disasters—persistent, ubiquitous, and absolutely no fault of the Puerto Rican government.”
This issue has become especially important thanks to an increase in hurricanes, heavy downpours, and rising sea levels for some mysterious reason (psst, it’s climate change). In theory, the National Flood Insurance Program, created in 1968 to establish affordable insurance for homeowners, should help those impacted by water damage, but as Oliver explained, there was a fatal flaw in its logic: that people living in at-risk areas would move to less flood-prone ones. “That's not how people work,” Oliver pointed out. “We will gladly accept huge risks to our personal safety for the sake of a discount—that was the entire premise behind the McDonald’s Dollar Menu.” And not everyone living in those vulnerable spots is in a position to move in the first place, effectively trapped in a cycle of damage and rebuilding.
The government doesn’t insure these people directly; it pays a fee to private insurance companies and retains responsibility for losses, which means natural disasters are basically a gold mine for those companies—and a source of massive debt for the government. In short, the program is desperately in need of reform, and, conveniently, it’s up for reauthorization in December.
Oliver was joined throughout the segment by a hungry seagull pestering him for Tostitos, which was kind of a dumb gag until it opened its mouth at the very end—and eloquent, empathetic words came out. “I heard what you were saying about flooding, and you are right—I’ve seen it. I’m a seagull,” explained the seagull puppet helpfully, telling Oliver that people forced to relocate are deserving of compassion and aid. “Because, well, leaving your home is hard, being forced out when it’s uninhabitable is 10 times harder. And after all, your home isn’t just walls and a roof. It’s where the people you love are.”
That might just be the best speech by a talking animal on Oliver’s show since the time a giant talking squirrel told a coal baron to “eat shit.”