U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Senate colleagues this week called on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to advance permanent, comprehensive pay reform for wildland firefighters in Oregon and nationwide as temporary pay increases are set to end.
“Firefighters deserve fair pay, support for their mental and physical health, and time to recover from their dangerous work. In a future with increasingly catastrophic wildfires, Congress cannot delay and deny this critical workforce’s needs,” the senators wrote.
A temporary pay increase was authorized in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), but new legislation is required to provide a permanent increase to firefighter pay. Senator Merkley, in his capacity as chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, ensured that a provision maintaining the IIJA program for more than 20,000 federal firefighters was included in the Senate’s proposed bipartisan Continuing Resolution to extend government funding through November 17, and Senators Merkley and Wyden are continuing to press for a permanent fix.
In their letter, Wyden and Merkley noted that the increasing threat posed by wildfires has contributed to firefighter recruitment and retention challenges – including low pay, unaffordable housing and mental health strain.
“We are grateful for the bravery of our wildland firefighters. We remain committed to delivering permanent, comprehensive pay reform for our wildland firefighters by the end of this fiscal year,” the senators concluded.
The letter was led by U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colo. Alongside Wyden and Merkley, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Angus King, I-Maine, John Hickenlooper D-Colo., Jacky Rosen D-Nev., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.