September 20, 2012

House Approves Rahall Language to Update FEMA Guidelines in Response to Derecho Storm

Washington, DC – Following yesterday’s announcement that the President approved West Virginia’s appeal for Individual Assistance for those hardest hit by the June 29 Derecho storm, the House of Representatives has approved legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) that would require FEMA to reassess how it evaluates requests for Individual Assistance following future disasters.

“West Virginia’s successful appeal for disaster assistance was welcome news for residents, but it was a lengthy and strenuous process that should have been avoided,” said Rahall, who serves as the Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with jurisdiction over FEMA.  “The sensible and timely review of FEMA’s Individual Assistance guidelines, which the House has now called for, will help to ensure that our disaster assistance programs are in fact quickly reaching those individuals they are designed to help and that needed aid is not locked behind rigid and inflexible bureaucratic rules.”

The FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2011 passed by the House includes language at Rahall’s request that encourages greater flexibility and more objective criteria in the guidelines that FEMA uses to assess disaster assistance requests, including losses that result from extended power outages.  Under the legislation, FEMA would have one year to review, update, and revise through rulemaking the factors the Agency considers when measuring the severity, magnitude, and impact of a disaster.

On July 23, the President approved Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s request for Public Assistance, which reimburses local governments for storm related cleanup costs.  West Virginia’s subsequent request for Individual Assistance, which assists households with home repairs and personal property losses, was initially denied, and later narrowed in scope from twenty-four counties to four.

“The Derecho that struck on June 29th took a terrible toll on West Virginia residents and businesses,” said Rahall.  “The storm’s unforecasted and unforgiving winds left homes and businesses damaged and without power for weeks.  Families saw food and medications spoil, businesses were forced to close, and breadwinners lost pay.  But because these losses did not neatly fit into the scenarios envisioned by the Stafford Act, FEMA’s response to West Virginia’s request for disaster assistance was needlessly delayed and narrowed in scope. I hope that this overdue update to FEMA’s Individual Assistance program leads to a more streamlined and consistent response when future emergencies arise.”

The FEMA Reauthorization Act was passed by a voice vote and now moves to the Senate for consideration.