Merkley, Wyden, DeFazio Continue Push to Ensure That Every Affected Oregonian Receives Federal Wildfire Recovery Resources

Merkley, Wyden, DeFazio Continue Push to Ensure That Every Affected Oregonian Receives Federal Wildfire Recovery Resources

Lawmakers: “It is imperative to ensure that the remaining wildfire survivors who desperately need federal aid receive it as quickly as possible”

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley led U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4) this week in sending a letter to Federal Coordinating Officer Dolph Diemont, urging the Biden administration to continue delivering assistance to Oregonians affected by the 2020 wildfire season, and to address barriers that are making it harder for some survivors to access resources.

“Last year was the most devastating wildfire season in our state’s recent history. In the 2020 season, Oregon experienced its worst drought in nearly 30 years, which resulted in some of the driest forest conditions on record. On the afternoon of September 7, 2020, a windstorm moved into the region from the east,” the lawmakers wrote. “These winds, mixed with dry fuel loads, exploded existing fires and started new ones, catching communities by surprise. The fires destroyed or damaged more than 5,000 structures across the state, including thousands of homes in low-income neighborhoods. Tens of thousands of Oregonians were forced to flee from their communities. More than a million acres across Oregon burned in wildfires in 2020, and several Oregonians tragically lost their lives.”

“We are particularly concerned about Oregonians with legitimate claims who have not yet received federal assistance and whose applications have been denied over technicalities,” they continued. “…It is imperative to ensure that the remaining wildfire survivors who desperately need federal aid receive it as quickly as possible. This is particularly important given the disproportionate impacts last September’s wildfires had on Oregon’s Latinx and low-income communities.”

In light of those concerns, the lawmakers requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) partner to the greatest extent possible with state and local organizations to appropriately and flexibly address survivors’ needs. Their letter emphasized that Oregonians with unconventional living circumstances, manufactured home owners, and renters who lost their homes to the blazes face unique challenges to filing claims, and will require extra assistance. The lawmakers also called on FEMA to expand and improve the quality of resources available in Spanish and other languages.

The full text of the letter is available here and follows below.

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Dear Federal Coordinating Officer Diemont:  

Thank you for the recent decision to approve federal Disaster Case Management resources for Oregon, and for FEMA’s role in wildfire response and recovery. Given the severity of last year’s wildfire season, we are writing to urge you to take every action possible to ensure that impacted Oregonians get the support and resources they need to recover from this point forward.

Last year was the most devastating wildfire season in our state’s recent history. In the 2020 season, Oregon experienced its worst drought in nearly 30 years, which resulted in some of the driest forest conditions on record. On the afternoon of September 7, 2020, a windstorm moved into the region from the east. These winds, mixed with dry fuel loads, exploded existing fires and started new ones, catching communities by surprise. The fires destroyed or damaged more than 5,000 structures across the state, including thousands of homes in low-income neighborhoods. Tens of thousands of Oregonians were forced to flee from their communities. More than a million acres across Oregon burned in wildfires in 2020, and several Oregonians tragically lost their lives.

Since then, Oregon has begun the long path to recovery, but many wildfire survivors are still not back on their feet. We are particularly concerned about Oregonians with legitimate claims who have not yet received federal assistance and whose applications have been denied over technicalities. While we understand that a significant number of fraudulent applications for FEMA assistance were submitted following last September’s wildfires, and that more than 3,000 applications for FEMA’s Individual Assistance program have been approved, it is imperative to ensure that the remaining wildfire survivors who desperately need federal aid receive it as quickly as possible. This is particularly important given the disproportionate impacts last September’s wildfires had on Oregon’s Latinx and low-income communities.

Given the circumstances, we urge FEMA to partner to the greatest extent possible with state and local organizations to appropriately and flexibly address the concerns of survivors who have yet to receive assistance. This includes Oregonians who had unconventional living circumstances and lost their homes during the fires, and manufactured home owners and renters who may have experienced disproportionate barriers in their attempts to provide the information needed to file claims. We also urge FEMA to expand and improve the quality of resources for survivors in need of Spanish or other language assistance while filing claims so that these interactions can be handled with greater ease of communication.

The number and scale of fires, and the continuing fallout from the 2020 wildfire season, are unprecedented and catastrophic. We thank you in advance for your assistance in providing additional resources to help ensure that Oregonians aren’t left behind in the recovery process. 

Sincerely,