As part of his ongoing effort to improve and strengthen Federal disaster assistance for West Virginia, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) is urging FEMA to update its guidelines for awarding Individual Assistance by speeding the process and clarifying the threshold for eligibility.
"The sensible and timely review of FEMA's Individual Assistance guidelines, which the Congress has now called for, is an opportunity to do away with some of the rigid and inflexible bureaucratic rules that limit and delay needed assistance. This is an issue I am going to keep after to ensure more timely and equitable assistance for residents and businesses," said Rahall.
Rahall, who is the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over FEMA disaster assistance, successfully included a provision in the recently passed Sandy Recovery Improvement Act that requires FEMA to reassess the guidelines the agency uses to evaluate Individual Assistance requests. Rahall called for the updated guidelines in response to last June's Derecho storm.
In his letter to the FEMA Administrator, Rahall noted that ambiguity about thresholds for assistance can delay requests and force a lengthy appeals process, which, in turn, leaves West Virginia disaster victims without insurance in limbo about the Federal assistance they can expect in recovering from storms. Without individual assistance, West Virginia families cannot secure Federal funds to support the rebuilding or repair of their homes and personal property, nor can they secure funds for rental assistance.
"Without clearer criteria from FEMA, the State is forced into an untenable position of speculating on what level of damage may qualify for assistance, and then forced into a time consuming appeals process, leaving disaster victims for months questioning when and how to proceed with the recovery process," wrote Rahall. "After the emotional trauma that residents face after a disaster, surely FEMA can do its part to help to alleviate one stressful instance by clarifying when Individual Assistance will or will not be provided."
Under the Rahall provision enacted into law, 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.