The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 30, 2013

Congress OKs Rahall’s bill on assistance

From staff reports

— President Obama has been sent a bill led by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., compelling the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reassess its rules on deciding individual assistance aid in emergencies such as last summer’s derecho.

Thousands of West Virginians suffered through long and intermittent periods of power disruption when hurricane-like winds swept through most of the state last June 29.

Damages soared into millions of dollars, but such losses didn’t fall within the guidelines of FEMA’s guidelines.

As a result, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s initial bid to help families with home repairs and personal property damage was rejected, but a follow-up request moved FEMA to approve assistance in four counties, not the 24 originally contained in the application.

Last month, FEMA turned down a similar request in the aftermath of a momentous snowfall left by Superstorm Sandy.

“The sensible review of FEMA’s guidelines that both houses of Congress have now supported and sent to the president will help to ensure that our federal disaster assistance programs are reaching those that they are designed to help and are not stuck behind bureaucratic red tape,” Rahall said.

“I hope that this overdue review of FEMA’s individual assistance program leads to a more streamlined and consistent response when future emergencies arise.”

FEMA is encouraged in Rahall’s bill to be more flexible and apply more objective criteria when assessing disaster assistance requests, including losses that result from extended power outages, the 3rd District congressman said.

Under the legislation, the agency would have one year to review, update and revise through rule-making the factors the agency considers when measuring the severity, magnitude and impact of a crisis.

“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 following the tremendous storms we experienced last year,” Rahall said.

“But those who suffered such significant and unanticipated losses at the hands of Mother Nature also deserve assistance from the federal relief programs that their tax dollars support. I look forward to reviewing FEMA’s updated guidelines in the coming year.”