The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 16, 2013

Rahall's disaster aid bill gets OK again

From staff reports

Just how the Federal Emergency Management Agency decides whether to grant individual assistance money in times of crisis would be reassessed in Rep. Nick Rahall’s bill, approved now a second time by the House.

Rahall offered the original text last year in the wake of the June 29 derecho that led to massive disruption of power and caused heavy damage for individual home and business owners.

Under existing guidelines, FEMA provided only limited assistance to individuals after the horrific windstorm.

“The sensible and timely review of FEMA’s individual assistance guidelines that the House has again voted to require will help to ensure that our federal disaster assistance programs are, in fact, reaching those they are designed to help,” Rahall, D-W.Va., said Tuesday.

“Too many West Virginia residents have been left for months on end to wonder if federal assistance would be available to them after they lost paychecks, large food stores, medications and property, following the monstrous storms that we experienced last year.”

Rahall called for speedy action by the Senate and approval by the White House.

Millions of dollars in losses were tabulated in the storm that found winds gusting in excess of 80 miles per hour.

Since such losses didn’t specifically come within FEMA’s guidelines, the state’s bid for individual assistance initially was turned down. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin filed a second request and this time, four counties qualified.

Rahall said his bill calls for more flexibility and more objective criteria in ascertaining if assistance requests are granted.

Under the bill, FEMA would have one year to review, update and revise through rule-making the factors the agency considers when gauging the severity, magnitude and impact of a disaster.

Rahall’s proposal had to be offered anew, since House Republicans blocked consideration of the Senate-approved Superstorm Sandy bill when the 112th Congress ended.

“West Virginia residents suffered considerable losses from the unforgiving winds of the derecho and Sandy’s snowfalls, but because those losses didn’t fall neatly within the current FEMA guidelines, needed federal aid has been bottled up behind bureaucratic guidelines or significantly limited,” the 3rd District congressman said.

“In the true spirit of our state, neighbors helped one another in their time of need and our communities have gotten back on their feet. But those who suffered such significant losses at the hands of Mother Nature also deserve assistance from the federal relief programs that their tax dollars support.”