Rahall proposes to update FEMA guidelines

PARKERSBURG – The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation to require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reconsider its evaluation guidelines for the individual assistance programs for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., who first introduced it in the last session of Congress after the June Derecho that caused widespread damage in West Virginia, particularly in the Mid-Ohio Valley and environs.

The House originally approved a bill to update FEMA guidelines in September and the Senate included similar language as part of a bill to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy, Rahall said. However, House Republicans blocked consideration of the Senate-passed Sandy Relief bill, Rahall said, and the legislation needed to be reintroduced in the new session this year.

Storm losses in West Virginia were the hundreds of millions of dollars, but the type of losses did not fall within guidelines and a request for Individual Assistance to help households with home repairs and personal property damage was initially denied, Rahall said. A subsequent appeal was granted for only four of 24 counties requested and a similar Individual Assistance request to help residents hit by Superstorm Sandy was rejected in December by FEMA.

“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 said.

The bill, which goes to the Senate, encourages FEMA to apply greater flexibility and use more objective criteria when assessing disaster assistance requests, including losses that result from extended power outages, Rahall said. The agency would have a year to review, update and revise through rulemaking the factors the agency considers when measuring the severity, magnitude and impact of a disaster.

However, the Senate’s Sandy Relief bill included pork barrel projects that didn’t deal with relief, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said on Tuesday. The Senate’s fiscal cliff bill also contained pet pork projects that had little to do with the intent of the legislation and despite the national debt being around $16 trillion, McKinley said.

“Take the recent Hurricane Sandy Relief legislation as another example of how the Senate tries to bury and hide wasteful spending in a bill aimed at helping the victims of a storm,” McKinley said.

In the relief bill were $200 million for Alaskan fisheries, $2 million for roof repair at the Smithsonian, $13 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to spend on the Gulf Coast and $4 million to repair sand dunes at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, McKinley said.

“We need to eliminate wasteful spending and concentrate on providing only the financial assistance that is warranted to those who have faced natural disasters,” McKinley said.