Helping disaster victims — or not

At the rate federal disaster relief funds are dripping out of state government, it could be 13 years before some flood victims in West Virginia get help.

Do the math: In February 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authorized state government to begin drawing down $149 million to help victims of devastating floods in June 2016.

Twenty months after Washington gave us the go-ahead, only about $17 million — an average of about $850,000 a month — has been spent. At that rate, it will be sometime in 2032 before the federal money is used.

In fairness, it needs to be noted that state officials have accelerated the process of using disaster relief money since spring 2018, when the lethargic pace of helping flood victims prompted Gov. Jim Justice to shake up the system. He ordered the program be pulled out of the Commerce Department and handed over to the West Virginia National Guard.

But progress still has been tortoise-like. This past June, three full years after the floods, officials reported 51 new homes had been provided to flood victims. Forty-eight of those were mobile homes.

State legislators have been looking into delays since 2018. Earlier this year, they debated legislation aimed at cutting through some of the bureaucratic red tape blamed for some problems. After they were warned of potential concerns about their plans, they were shelved, however.

Lawmakers reportedly plan to try again in January, when they return to Charleston for their annual regular session.

One proposal is that a new State Resiliency Office be created, within the governor’s office. Theoretically, it would provide more effective coordination of responses to emergencies such as floods.

So, in response to a major failure of the state bureaucracy, legislators would, in effect, expand it? How crazy is that?

Hundreds of families hurt by the 2016 flooding remain on the to-do list for RISE West Virginia, the government entity that is supposed to help them.

Exactly why have they been kept waiting so long? Until legislators get detailed, honest answers to that question, no amount of added “resiliency” will ensure that West Virginia’s response to natural disasters is not a bureaucratic disaster.


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