January 29, 2013

Rahall Legislation Updating FEMA Guidelines in Response to West Virginia Storms to Become Law

Washington, DC – The Congress has sent legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) to be signed into law by the President that will require FEMA to reassess the guidelines used to evaluate requests for Individual Assistance following disasters such as last year’s Derecho.

“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 they are designed to help and are not stuck behind bureaucratic red tape,” said Rahall.  “I hope that this overdue review of FEMA’s Individual Assistance program leads to a more streamlined and consistent response when future emergencies arise.”

West Virginian’s suffered losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars as the result of extended power outages following the June Derecho.  Because these types of losses did not explicitly fall within FEMA’s guidelines, the State’s request for Individual Assistance to help households with home repairs and personal property damage was initially denied.  A subsequent appeal was granted but narrowed in scope from twenty-four counties to four.  A similar Individual Assistance request to help West Virginia residents hard hit by Superstorm Sandy was rejected by FEMA last month.

Under the language that Rahall authored, FEMA will be encouraged to apply greater flexibility and use more objective criteria when assessing disaster assistance requests, including losses that result from extended power outages.   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.

“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 continued.  “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.”

Rahall’s language was included as part H.R. 152 which the Senate approved last night and which the President is expected to sign into law in the coming days.