January 15, 2013

Rahall Proposal to Update FEMA Guidelines in Response to West Virginia Storms Approved Again by U.S. House

Washington, DC – Following the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) recent denial of West Virginia’s request for Individual Assistance for victims of Superstorm Sandy, the House has again passed legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) that will require FEMA to reassess the guidelines the agency uses to evaluate such requests in the future.  Rahall originally introduced the legislation in the last Congress in response to the June 2012 Derecho which devastated large portions of West Virginia but triggered only limited federal aid to affected individuals due to current FEMA guidelines.

“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,” said Rahall.  “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. I am hopeful that this legislation will be quickly acted on in the Senate and sent to the President for signature.”

West Virginians suffered losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars as the result of extended power outages following last June’s 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 for only four of the twenty-four counties requested by the state.  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.

“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 current FEMA guidelines, needed federal aid has been bottled up behind bureaucratic guidelines, or significantly limited,” Rahall continued.  “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.”

The House of Representatives originally approved Rahall’s bill to update FEMA guidelines last September and the Senate included similar language as part of a bill to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy.  Because House Republicans blocked consideration of the Senate passed Sandy relief bill at the end of the 112th Congress, Rahall’s legislation needed to be reintroduced in the new Congress.