FEMA expands aid, other assistance in New Mexico


The Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire burns south of Las Vegas, NM in May. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Wildfires in New Mexico this summer have destroyed hundreds of homes, burned federal, state, local, tribal and private lands, and forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

Now, aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is beginning to trickle in. And, on Thursday, New Mexico’s delegation announced that President Biden has amended the disaster declaration for New Mexico, allowing FEMA to offer additional types of assistance to help rebuild from the largest fire in state history.

FEMA has so far approved more than $2.9 million in aid for New Mexico residents. That money has been spread out across 929 applicants who have been approved for funding, according to FEMA’s website.

It includes $2.2 million in housing assistance and about $780,000 in other assistance, according to the website.

People in Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia counties are eligible to be reimbursed for damages caused by the ongoing wildfires.

Dasha Castillo, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the agency is currently doing home inspections in those five counties, which will lead to individuals and families getting grants to repair or rebuild their homes. If the person or family has home insurance, the agency will wait until there’s an insurance settlement and could provide additional funds, she said.

“Everything is pretty much on a case-by-case basis, so it will depend on the amount of losses and damages that the person or family incurred,” she said.

It’s not clear how long those assessments could take.

“Every disaster is different,” she said. “It could be 12 months, it could be 18 months, but it could also be extended.”

If FEMA rejects someone’s application, the decision can be appealed within 60 days. Castillo says that applications are often rejected because of missing paperwork, so she urged people to read their decision letters carefully.

In addition to individual assistance, FEMA will also expand the types of public assistance being offered in the state.

Earlier this week, New Mexico’s entire delegation wrote to President Biden, asking him to authorize certain types of aid to be distributed in Colfax, Mora and San Miguel counties. The delegation announced Thursday that the president had fulfilled their request.

“Much of the destruction has occurred in rural, high and persistent poverty rate communities that simply cannot afford to take on the economic strain imposed by the wildfires,” all five members of the state’s delegation wrote to the president.

FEMA was already performing debris removal and taking other emergency protection measures in the state, in addition to the individual assistance, Castillo said.

The amendment announced Thursday authorizes federal funding to repair roads and bridges, water control facilities, public buildings and contents, public utilities, parks and recreational facilities.

In addition to the regular FEMA grants, New Mexico’s congressional Democrats have introduced the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act, which would direct the federal government to fully compensate victims of the Hermits Peak Fire, which started as a prescribed burn that got out of control.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján, DN.M., who sponsored the bill in the Senate, modeled the legislation after the Cerro Grande Fire Assistance Act, said Adan Serna, Luján’s spokesman. That bill was introduced by then-Sen. Pete Domenici, RN.M., in response to the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000, which also started as a controlled burn.

Serna said the senator has met with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to drum up support.

“The case that he’s been making … is that there are still senators on both sides of the aisle who supported Sen. Domenici’s bill, who he believes should support this bill as well,” Serna said.

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