Rahall asks FEMA to expedite disaster assistance - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Rahall asks FEMA to expedite disaster assistance

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Thousands of West Virginians are still waiting to hear if they are eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance after Superstorm Sandy hit the area in October.

Now, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is pressing FEMA to ensure state residents affected by the storm receive full benefits. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has jurisdiction over FEMA.

"I fully understand the tremendous burden FEMA officials are under during such widespread disasters like Sandy," Rahall said Dec. 4 during a hearing before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "They are on the front lines of emergency response and have been there for West Virginians time and again. But our citizens need and deserve timely answers, especially when such disaster assistance is so critically needed."

Hurricane Sandy mixed with a cold front over West Virginia and dumped several feet of snow in the eastern mountains, caused power outages and uprooted trees. Last week, President Barack Obama declared 18 West Virginia counties a federal disaster area. However, FEMA is still deciding whether to offer individual assistance for storm victims.

This wasn't the first time West Virginia was hit by such a damaging storm. A derecho affected much of the state in late June, again causing widespread power outages and uprooting tress. Like Sandy, the derecho affected other states along the eastern seaboard. In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that encourages greater flexibility and more objective criteria in the guidelines FEMA uses to assess disaster assistance requests, including loses that result from power outages. Under the legislation, FEMA would have one year to review, update and revise the factors the agency considers when measuring the severity, magnitude and impact of a disaster.

To Rahall, Superstorm Sandy is another reminder that FEMA's guidelines need to change.

"Clearly, Sandy is yet another reminder that updates to FEMA guidelines are very much needed in order to ensure more timely and responsive disaster assistance," Rahall said. "More than a month after the storm, West Virginia families are still waiting for a decision on whether individual assistance will be made available to help them repair broken roofs, fix affected businesses and recoup lost wages. Our residents should not be subject to a drawn out bureaucratic process or left to wonder how much of this storm's terrible burden they will have to bear on their own."