DeFazio, Merkley Lead Oregon Delegation in Introducing Legislation to Reduce Financial Burdens on States and Communities Facing Emergencies and Major Disasters, including Wildfires and Hurricanes, amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON—Today, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Senator Jeff Merkley led Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Kurt Schrader (OR-05), Greg Walden (OR-02) and Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) in introducing legislation to increase the Federal cost share of certain Federal disaster assistance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This legislation, the “FEMA Assistance Relief Act of 2020,” would help ease financial burdens on states, as well as local and tribal communities, that have been granted Emergency or Major Disaster declarations this year pursuant to the Stafford Act.

“Oregon is facing twin crises—the COVID-19 pandemic and catastrophic wildfires—fueled by climate change and a lack of proper forest management,” said Chair DeFazio. “As our state, local, and tribal governments see their public health and emergency management capacities stretched thin or exceeded—and as the tax base continues to be under enormous strain—we must ensure that they have the financial support needed to weather these crises.” 

“First the coronavirus claimed hundreds of lives in Oregon, cost countless others their jobs, and left our businesses in freefall. Now, catastrophic wildfires have multiplied the heartbreak—claiming more lives and incinerating entire communities,” said Senator Merkley. “I’ve been talking to people who have lost everything and seeing up close the destructive wake of these fires, and it’s clear that this unprecedented disaster must be met with an unprecedented level of federal support. With help, I know Oregon will pull together to come back from the pandemic and wildfires even stronger.”

“The ongoing public health wallop from COVID-19 and its economic fallout in Oregon has been worsened by the wildfires tearing through towns and neighborhoods, spreading smoke and destruction in their wake,” Senator Wyden said. “The financial coffers of our state — and of local and tribal communities — are buckling from the impact of this awful combination of disasters, and this legislation increasing the feds’ share of assistance would provide much-needed relief.”  

“COVID-19 has strained budgets at every level, leaving our cities, counties, and state with few resources to respond to the most devastating fires we’ve seen in decades,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “FEMA should reduce the cost-sharing requirement for 2020 disasters to alleviate the strain, and cover all COVID-19 disaster costs. We cannot cut corners as we strive to help people and communities who have lost everything.”

Typically, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments are responsible for 25 percent of the costs of FEMA assistance, but, with their own response costs up and tax receipts down, it’s critical these communities have the resources to respond to multiple crises, including wildfires in the West, and the ongoing pandemic.

Specifically, this legislation would:

  • Adjust the FEMA cost share for all Emergencies and Major Disasters declared in calendar year 2020 to not less than 90 percent Federal and 10 percent non-Federal, up from the typical 75 percent Federal and 25 percent non-Federal;
  • Adjust the FEMA cost share for all COVID-19 related Emergency and Major Disaster declarations to 100 percent Federal; and
  • Clarify to FEMA that under the COVID-19 declarations, the Agency may—and Congress expects—FEMA to cover certain expenses for reimbursement, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and other services for public schools, public transit, and courthouses. This comes on the heels of the Trump administration pulling funding for critical supplies, like PPE and disinfecting schools.