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House approves legislation to improve storm response

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. House of Representatives has approved new legislation sponsored by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. to require that the Federal Emergency Management Agency improve how it evaluates individual assistance requests from people affected by serious storms.

On Wednesday, the White House approved West Virginia's appeal to provide individual assistance for people who were hardest hit by the June 29 derecho windstorms in Charleston and other areas of the state.

Thousands of West Virginians were without power for days. Many lost food stored in their refrigerators and freezers and suffered damages to their homes.

After the White House action Wednesday, House members approved the legislation. 

"West Virginia's successful appeal for disaster assistance was welcome news for residents, but it was a lengthy and strenuous process that should have been avoided," said Rahall, the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which supervises FEMA.

Rahall said his legislation will help to make sure federal "disaster assistance programs are in fact quickly reaching those individuals they are designed to help" and not impeded by "inflexible and bureaucratic rules."

The House legislation would give FEMA one year to review and revise the ways it determines how disaster victims are evaluated to receive federal help.

On July 23, Obama approved Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's request for federal public assistance, which reimburses local governments for costs in cleaning up damages from storms.

But the state's subsequent requests for individual assistance were initially denied, then narrowed from including people in 24 counties to people in only four counties.

Requests for individual assistance are meant to help homeowners repair homes and recover from other personal property damage.

The FEMA Reauthorization Act, passed by a voice vote in the House, will now move to the Senate for consideration, according to John W. Noble, communications director for House Transportation Committee Democrats.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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