December 08, 2020

Congressman Neguse, Senator Wyden Call for Wildfire Relief Funds to Be Included in Next COVID-19 Relief Package

Washington D.C.—Today, Congressman Joe Neguse and Senator Ron Wyden led their colleagues in sending a letter to Democratic and Republican House and Senate leadership requesting that funds for wildfire risk mitigation and recovery efforts be included in the next COVID-19 relief package. 

“A record 2020 wildfire season has forced thousands of evacuations, threatened air and water quality, and destroyed homes and businesses. Communities that have been fighting the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19 are now also beginning the long journey of recovering from catastrophic wildfire,” said Congressman Neguse. “Congress has the power to not only help these communities recover, but also to make major federal investments in sustainable forest management to ensure they are better prepared for the next season. After a devastating wildfire season in Colorado, it is critical that we ensure our firefighters and communities are protected from future tragedies of this magnitude, and fully equipped for the long road of recovery.”

“Entire communities in Oregon and across the West were leveled to ash in the wake of this year's wildfire season--lives lost and homes and small businesses destroyed, and all on top of a life-threatening global pandemic,” Senator Wyden said. “With the blow 2020 delivered to these communities, Congress has a responsibility to provide for their recovery and invest in preventing future devastation.”

Specifically, the letter calls for: 

  • Local economic relief to assist cash-strapped cities and towns originally excluded from the CARES Act in order to ensure firefighters and first responders can remain on payroll and have access to needed staff and resources; 
  • Investments in fire risk mitigation, such as establishing a 21st Century Conservation Corps to restore forest health and making investments in vital Forest Service programs that assist with forest management, such as the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program; 
  • Federal support for fire response efforts, including investments in FEMA’s Staffing For Adequate Fire And Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants, increased funds for late-season interagency hotshot crews, and increased pay and benefits for federal wildfire personnel; and 
  • Investments in fire recovery efforts to support the work being done by local, state, and federal officials to revitalize the environmental health, water quality, and economy of communities impacted by wildfires. 

Read the letter here.

The letter led by Congressman Joe Neguse and Senator Ron Wyden is signed by Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Salud Carbajal, Suzan DelBene, Raúl Grijalva, Jared Huffman, Ro Khanna, Ann Kirkpatrick, Barbara Lee, Jerry McNerney, Grace Napolitano, Tom O’Halleran, Jimmy Panetta, Katie Porter, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Brad Sherman, and Mike Thompson, and Senators Dianne Feinstein, Maria Cantwell, Kyrsten Sinema, Catherine Cortez Masto, Jacky Rosen, Tom Udall, Michael Bennet, Martin Heinrich, Patty Murray, Jon Tester, and Jeff Merkley. 

Background

Wildfire mitigation and response is a year-round legislative priority for Congressman Neguse. Since taking office, he has worked to ensure Colorados firefighters and first responders are supported and 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. 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, through many of the same programs outlined in the letter sent today, as well as major investments in conservation and forest restoration.