December 10, 2020

Congressman Neguse Introduces Wildfire Recovery Act, to Provide Grant Flexibility for Wildfire Recovery Efforts in Colorado

Washington D.C.—Today, Congressman Joe Neguse introduced the Wildfire Recovery Act to help ensure Colorado communities have the resources they need to recover from a devastating wildfire season. Specifically, the legislation would increase flexibility in the federal cost share for Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAG) and allow for an increase above the current 75% federal share. Currently, the CalWood, East Troublesome, and Cameron Peak Fires which burned throughout the 2nd district have all been authorized to receive FMAG grants to assist in recovery efforts. The grants allow the state to submit receipts for reimbursement of 75 percent of eligible costs to fight the fires—which includes field camp expenses, equipment use and repair, mobilization, and other materials and supplies. However, unlike some other FEMA programs related to disasters that provide at least 75% of the total costs, there is no current flexibility for the FMAG program cost share. The Wildfire Recovery Act, introduced today by Congressman Neguse, would grant flexibility to raise the Federal cost-share above 75% when the wildfire reaches a qualifying threshold, to bring more resources to communities in the 2nd district. 

“Communities in the 2nd district and across Colorado have experienced a devastating wildfire season, and it’s essential that they have the full extent of federal resources available for recovery,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “My bill, the Wildfire Recovery Act will help ensure that in extreme circumstances, our state and local governments are able to receive increased support from the Federal government to help cover firefighting costs, such as field camp expenses, equipment use, repair, mobilization, and other eligible FMAG expenses. As our communities begin the long road of recovery from these historic wildfires, our office is here to assist in every way we can. We continue to coordinate with state and local officials to provide federal support and resources and consider legislative solutions to lessen the burden for those who have been impacted.”

“I’ve seen firsthand how devastating wildfires can be to communities, businesses, and families. Rep. Neguse continues to fight for Colorado and I was proud he joined me when we met with victims and families devastated by Colorado’s climate and drought-induced wildfires,” said Governor Jared Polis. “This legislation would drastically improve the ability of state and local governments to respond to these disasters and speed up the recovery process.”

“Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme wildfires in our community and countless others,” said Deb Gardner, Chair of the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners. “Recovering from these events is costly, and the federal government is an essential partner in that process. This legislation will give FEMA the flexibility to provide communities that have been especially hard-hit with the resources they need to fully recover.”

“This bill would greatly assist local governments that experience catastrophic wildfires by better aligning the FMAG program with other FEMA assistance programs, and by supporting small communities with limited resources,” said Lori Hodges, Director of the Office of Emergency Management for Larimer County. 

“This bill is exactly what Grand County needs. Rural Colorado Counties with relatively large scale disasters cannot afford the old 25% cost share. Grand County lost over 500 structures.  Debris removal alone may cost over $20 Million.  25% of $20 million is $5 million.  Grand County's total annual budget is less than $50 Million, and our budget is tight. ” said Richard Cimino, Grand County Commissioner. “Joe Neguse's bill will make it possible for rural Colorado Counties to help their citizens recover from natural disasters." 

Background

Wildfire mitigation and response is a year-round legislative priority for Congressman Neguse. Since taking office, he has worked to ensure Colorado’s firefighters and first responders are supported and that necessary investments are made at the federal level in wildfire resiliency and recovery efforts. In March, Congressman Neguse led an effort with Chairman Peter DeFazio requesting increased funds for the Joint Fire Science Program. In April, as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified, Congressman Neguse sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was successful in ensuring firefighters and first responders be given priority for COVID-19 tests.

As Colorado has experienced a devastating and relentless wildfire season in 2020, Congressman Neguse has worked in close coordination with local firefighters and emergency management officials to ensure that communities in the 2nd Congressional District and across Colorado have the federal funds they need to contain these fires and recover. At the height of devastating wildfires in the 2nd district, Congressman Neguse helped secure FEMA funds for containment efforts of the CalWoodEast Troublesome and Cameron Peak Fires. He also sent a letter to the Departments of Agriculture and Interior requesting an increase in late-season federal wildland resources by extending interagency hotshot contracts, and led a bipartisan effort with Congressman Garret Graves requesting supplemental resources for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). In September, Congressman Neguse passed an amendment through the House of Representatives to collect data and coordinate research on the impacts of acute air pollution exposure from wildfires, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This summer, Congressman Neguse introduced the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps for our Health and Our Jobs Act in the House, alongside Senator Ron Wyden, which would make major investments in wildfire resiliency and mitigation efforts, as well as major investments in conservation and forest restoration. Last week, the pair sent a letter to House and Senate leadership requesting that funds for wildfire relief and many of the programs outlined in this bill, be included in the next COVID-19 stimulus package.