The deadline for comments on how FEMA will distribute billions in NM firefighting aid is approaching

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is deciding what New Mexicans will do to seek compensation after being injured or losing property as a result of last year’s massive northern wildfire.

to comment

Closing date: Friday 13 January 2023

read through The rules proposed by FEMA.

Submit a comment online here:

include the Docket ID FEMA-2022-0037.

Contact information:

Angela Gladwell, Office of Response and Recovery

Phone: 202-646-3642

Those with hearing or speech difficulties can reach this number via TTY by calling 800-877-8339 duty free

E-mail: [email protected]

Comments are public.

Billions of dollars are at stake destined for families who suffered from the Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon fire, which started with two prescribed burns lit by the United States Forest Service.

The deadline for public comments is Friday, January 13th.

FEMA made some mistakes instituting the first round of aid while the fire was still burning, so people are wondering how the agency will manage the $3.9 billion that Congress has allocated to New Mexico. The sum could have a huge impact on the region — it represents about a third of the state’s total projected budget for the next fiscal year (about $11.99 billion in December 2018). according to economists with the Legislative Finance Committee).

Commenter Joe Summers addressed the concerns of many community members on December 5, criticizing the unclear language on FEMA’s website.

This is too confusing and arbitrary for victims to navigate with confidence and certainty that they are receiving the attention needed to fully provide details of their losses and receive adequate compensation,” he wrote.

The entire New Mexico congressional delegation also submitted a letter last week outlining the desired changes.

On their concerns: Rural and tribal communities in the area rely on fishing, gambling and logging. Much of this became impossible after the fire. The compensation should cover subsistence, the letter said, so that people can continue their traditional way of life.

FEMA hosts job fairs — including one on Tuesday, January 10th — to hire people who can help others navigate the claims process or review claims. They should be members of the local community, the delegation said, and they should be bilingual.

Proposed rules state that people affected by the fire will be compensated, but significant damage has been caused by floods pouring over charred land, pouring out of clogged waterways, unimpeded by vegetation that would normally slow the water or create a barrier.

“We encourage you to specifically identify floods, mudslides, mold and debris flows as a cause of injury and as recoverable damage,” the New Mexico officials and senators said in their letter to FEMA.

It could also be difficult for people to show that flooding was a result of the fire, they added, especially when not everyone is working on the same map.

The FBI has high-resolution images of fire damage, but would not share them with anyone trying to prove damage to their property, Source NM reported in November. Local residents even start their own Airplane flight over the burn scar trying to map the area myself.

“FEMA should develop a simple method or map to assess whether flooding in specific areas is a result of the fire and remove the burden of those making claims,” ​​the delegation’s letter said.

At public meetings over the rules for distributing the money, people who lost property in the fire raised an issue with the proposal to limit compensation for lost trees to 25%. This cap is a holdover from the 2000 Cerro Grande fire that affected the people of Los Alamos, many of whom lived on smaller residential lots.

But 22 years later, the largest fire in New Mexico history consumed 530 square miles of forested land that was often used for generations to farm and raise cattle — or even grow Christmas trees.

“Most Mora/San Miguel residents depend on their trees for firewood, etc.,” wrote Yolanda Cruz in her comment for FEMA on the tree value cap in the proposed rules. “To know that the trees will not return in our lifetime is a great loss.”

A 25 percent limit is incompatible with the effort required to restore the environment, the delegation agreed.

“The limitation of compensation for reforestation to 25% of the premium does not take into account the extent of the damage,” the letter reads. Also, the proposed rules would require someone from FEMA to inspect a person’s property to decide whether trees were used for landscaping or for business purposes, they said, slowing the process.

The delegation also said the agency should be flexible in considering proof of ownership.

Some papers may have been burned in the fire. Because the region is rural and phone and internet service can still be particularly patchy after the fire, access to public records is limited.

In other scenarios, they wrote, land and homes in the region changed hands between family members over generations without the typical documentation.

If FEMA miscalculates and overpays someone, the proposed rules say the agency should try to get that money back.

But that could mean those injured by the fire would be reluctant to even try to claim damages “for fear that if the agency makes a mistake, they could be held liable for repayment,” officials and said New Mexico senators in their letter. “FEMA is already facing significant community skepticism about its process and the establishment of the Claims Office, and deepening these concerns does not benefit FEMA or the victims of these fires.”

Instead, the delegation said, the agency should not seek to recover potential overpayments — or set a short timeframe to do so.

Notably, DC officials did not ask FEMA to appoint an independent claims manager who hails from New Mexico, which was a sticking point for many commenters.

Former NM Attorney General Hector Balderas filed written comments and objections on behalf of the state in late December, and that is the first item listed. Balderas indicated that the independent claims manager should be a prosecutor or a retired judge.

“An independent claims manager will increase involvement in the claims process here,” Balderas wrote. “FEMA has not yet built a strong sense of trust among the citizens of New Mexico…”

Angela Gladwell, the FEMA claims officer, told Source New Mexico in In mid-November that agency had decided to proceed without bringing in an outside claims manager. She declined to comment on how that decision was made or why.