Bureaucracy: Laws hindering relief efforts should be changed

Some West Virginians may think the bureaucracy is part of the reason for delays in helping victims of 2016 floods in some southern counties. Last month, their suspicions were confirmed.

Legislators have been looking into why the state has been so slow in using $149 million in federal funding to repair and replace homes damaged by the high water. More than three years after the floods, some victims still are waiting.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Flooding discussed plans to speed relief efforts by changing state laws. One would allow the state auditor’s office to release state money in advance for disaster relief projects that also involve federal funds.

Current state law prohibits the auditor from releasing funds before materials and services are furnished. Attorney Carl Fletcher explained to lawmakers why that can be a problem.

One initiative using federal and state money is to repair a floodwall in Milton. It resulted in something of a standoff between officials in Charleston and Washington. Federal bureaucrats insisted the state had to release its 35% share of the cost in advance, before the project was undertaken, in order to get the federal money.

That would have been illegal. A minor change in state law could avoid delays in such situations.

Legislators should make the alteration, of course, along with others intended to bring state code into alignment with federal requirements for disaster relief.

Then, they should ask why on earth it has taken this long — the floods were in June 2016 — for state officials to suggest such changes be made.


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