Last updated: July 17. 2013 5:52PM - 174 Views
From the Hill to the Mountains: A weekly column by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

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When faced with great challenges, West Virginians have always demonstrated their strength and resilience by coming together to help one another through the most difficult situations. It’s been a tough week for us in West Virginia as so many residents all over our state struggled to recover from severe weather that left hundreds of thousands without power in record-high heat. Gayle’s and my thoughts and prayers are with the families who are still without electricity, water, ice and food, and I want you to know that my office is doing all we can to ensure you get your power restored and the supplies you need as quickly as possible.

I want to thank the first responders and the West Virginia National Guard for working so hard this week to help our state recover. I know many of these folks and their families were themselves impacted by the storms, and yet they best demonstrated West Virginia’s neighborly spirit by taking care of people in their communities. As always, your efforts have made all the difference, and I know West Virginians are truly grateful for your service.

My office stayed open over the 4th of July holiday and has been in constant contact with state and local officials in each and every county, the Red Cross and FEMA, and we are working hard to get the information West Virginians are counting on. We’ve been doing all we can to ensure that people are getting things like oxygen, water, and ice when they need it, and to help make the recovery process as smooth as possible.

I also had the opportunity to join the West Virginia National Guard as they visited communities impacted by the storms to speak directly with the families who were affected and try to help meet their needs. I visited Lewisburg, Alderson, Rupert and Rainelle in Greenbrier County, as well as Glen Jean, Kincaid, Page, Montgomery, Gauley Bridge, Ansted and Lookout in Fayette County. As always, it was heartening to see the spirit of our state truly in action – in West Virginia, we know how to come together when times are tough and lend a hand to our neighbors in need.

While traveling around these storm-devastated areas, I heard your concerns loud and clear. Based on what we are hearing, one of the chief concerns on the ground is whether or not folks who normally receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits could apply for supplemental benefits if their food was spoiled because of the storm. I am told that West Virginians who currently receive SNAP benefits will be able to apply for additional SNAP benefits at their local Department of Health and Human Resources.

If you currently receive SNAP benefits and you lost food because of inclement weather, you will be eligible for replacement food stamps for the month of June. All applications for replacement benefits should be made by July 9, but this deadline could be extended pending federal approval. To get replacement benefits, you should contact your DHHR area office. A list is available here: http://www.wvdhhr.org/bcf/about/documents/A-Z%20County%20Office%20Listing.pdf

Another enormous concern I heard while traveling came from our firefighters and first responders, who were very worried about missing the deadline to apply for the Assistance to Firefighters grant program, which provides federal funds for agencies needing critical equipment, training, and other fire-fighting resources. All paper applications were due to be postmarked July 6. However, I was able to work directly with FEMA to ensure that the recovery process in our state would not interfere with firefighters’ ability to get the resources they need to keep our communities safe. The deadline for paper applications has now been extended to July 16. For additional information, please visit my website: www.manchin.senate.gov

As you may know, President Obama has declared West Virginia an emergency disaster area. The Emergency Disaster Declaration means that FEMA is coordinating disaster relief efforts with the state and sending necessary equipment and resources into the state. The next step is for the Governor to ask for a Federal Disaster Declaration. This can only happen after the damage in the state has been assessed, and often that takes at least a week. After a Federal Disaster is declared, West Virginians will be able to work directly with FEMA for additional aid.

For now, West Virginians need to be in contact with their county Office of Emergency Services. At this stage in the recovery, OES is still the best place for you to receive assistance. Each county has its own contact number, and those are available here: http://www.dhsem.wv.gov/countycontacts/Pages/default.aspx

I have spoken directly to my friend, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and I want you to know that her heart goes out to the people of West Virginia. She assured me that the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA will do all they can to help our state recover.

As always, my office is ready to help in any way we can. You can call my office toll-free at 855-275-5737 (if you are calling from a 304 or 681 area code), or call my Washington, D.C. office at 202-224-3954.

Gayle and I are keeping all West Virginians in our thoughts and prayers.

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