Lawmakers push for emergency aid for flood-stricken region

WASHINGTON — Eastern Oregon’s congressional delegation — Democrat Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Republican Rep. Greg Walden, are pushing the Trump administration for an expedited review of the “presidential major disaster declaration” that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown requested for three Oregon counties and a tribal nation that suffered severe damage from historic flooding in February.

Officials estimate damages to public and individual property amount to more than $30 million.

The lawmakers also emphasized the urgent need to provide assistance through other programs that would assist the hardest-hit areas — Umatilla County and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation — and provide statewide resources.

“Those historic floods combined with erosion, landslides and mudslides led to destruction that placed significant stresses on local emergency resources and financial hardship for Oregonians living and working in these small communities,” the lawmakers wrote. “Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed, several with private wells that are now unable to provide clean drinking water. Around 90% of the damaged homes were uninsured, with many of the residents in these rural neighborhoods economically disadvantaged. Unfortunately, Umatilla County had a housing shortage before the event. Affordable rental housing is nearly nonexistent, particularly within a reasonable commuting distance of the impacted areas.”

A federal disaster declaration will allow local governments in affected counties — Umatilla, Union and Wallowa — to seek reimbursement for a large portion of costs and losses. Additionally, businesses and homeowners will be eligible for loans, insurance relief, and other assistance that will allow businesses to reopen their doors and help vulnerable residents regain safe and secure homes.

In advocating for the urgent review and rapid release of funding, the lawmakers emphasized how the community came together in a time of crisis, preventing even more substantial damages.

“The tragedy could have been greater had it not been for the compassionate efforts of rural residents throughout the region,” they wrote.