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Rahall's FEMA bill expected to become law

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A bill to require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reassess guidelines is on its way to becoming law. The bill requires FEMA to reassess the guidelines it uses to evaluate requests for individual assistance following natural disasters, such as the June 2012 derecho.

HR 152 passed the House of Representatives Jan. 15 and the U.S. Senate Jan. 28. Rahall said the bill will help people who need government assistance without getting stuck behind bureaucratic red tape.

"I hope that this overdue review of FEMA's individual assistance program leads to a more streamlined and consistent response when future emergencies arise," Rahall said.

Residents across the state suffered losses valued at hundreds of millions of dollars as the result of extended power outages following the derecho. Those types of losses did not fall within FEMA's guidelines and the state's request for individual assistance to help with home repairs and personal property damage was initially denied. An appeal was granted, but it only allowed assistance for four counties rather than the initial 24 that needed help.

A similar individual assistance request to help victims of Superstorm Sandy was also denied last month.

Under Rahall's language, FEMA would be encouraged to apply greater flexibility and use more objective criteria when assessing disaster assistance requests, including losses that result from extended power outages. FEMA would have a year to review, update and revise through rulemaking the factors it considers when measuring the severity, magnitude and impact of a disaster.

"In the true spirit of our state, neighbors helped one another in their time of need and our communities have gotten back on their feet following the tremendous storms we experienced last year," Rahall said.  "But those who suffered such significant and unanticipated losses at the hands of Mother Nature also deserve assistance from the federal relief programs that their tax dollars support.  I look forward to reviewing FEMA's updated guidelines in the coming year." 

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.