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Bill requires FEMA reassessment

The Federal Emergency Management Agency might soon have to rethink how it evaluates areas requesting disaster assistance.

On Wednesday, The U.S. House of Representatives approved the 2012 FEMA Reauthorization Act, which provides funding for the agency over the next year.

The bill contained changes sponsored by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., that require FEMA to reassess how it evaluates individual assistance requests.

Rahall drafted the legislation after FEMA denied individual assistance to many state residents and businesses following the June 29 derecho.

"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," Rahall said in a statement.

FEMA originally denied the state's request for that type of assistance on Aug. 8. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, with the assistance of the state's congressional delegation, appealed the agency's decision.

On Wednesday, the agency announced it would grant some assistance to residents and businesses in the four hardest-hit counties: Kanawha, Fayette, Nicholas and Raleigh.

FEMA originally denied the aid because the damage caused by the June 29 storm did not exceed traditional thresholds for assistance.

The agency usually grants individuals and businesses aid only if more than 100 homes or buildings were destroyed in an event. While the storm left more than 500,000 customers without power for days, most people suffered minimal property damage.

Rahall and others have argued there were other factors that should have come into play in the post-derecho decision.

"The storm's unforecasted and unforgiving winds left homes and businesses damaged and without power for weeks," Rahall said.

"Families saw food and medications spoil, businesses were forced to close, and breadwinners lost pay," he said. "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."

Rahall's amendment requires the agency to re-evaluate its aid criteria over the next year. It encourages greater flexibility and more objective criteria to assess disaster assistance requests, including losses that result from extended power outages.

The amended bill passed the House by a voice vote Wednesday. It now moves to the U.S. Senate for further consideration.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-5148. 


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