During NM visit, Pelosi hints aid to fire victims will come sooner than expected

Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act could be included in continuing resolution to keep the federal government open

By: - September 27, 2022 11:23 am

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández stand in front of community members and elected officials affected by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire who just attended a round table with the Speaker and Representative at the Indian Pueblo Community Center on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt for Source NM)

Those who suffered damage or injury due to the biggest fire in state history could be in line to receive substantial compensation sooner than expected, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a visit to Albuquerque on Monday.

The Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-Las Vegas, N.M.), requires the federal government to pay damages for the 500-square-mile wildfire a U.S. Forest Service crew accidentally caused in April. The fire north of Las Vegas destroyed about 1,000 structures, including more than 500 homes, charred the landscape, imperiled the watershed and forced thousands to flee.

Pelosi came to Albuquerque on Monday to hear from victims of the fire and elected officials from the area. She also touted the possibility of including the act in Congress’ continuing resolution. That’s the spending deal that keeps the government funded and other priorities, so long as lawmakers agree to it before Oct. 1, the beginning of the federal fiscal year.

Speaking to reporters after the roundtable, she hinted that the legislation would be part of the spending bill but would not say how much money it would contain.

“Stay tuned,” she said at the news conference at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Putting the legislation in the budget deal means the aid could arrive earlier than anticipated, though it remains to be seen how quickly victims will be able to file claims under the act and then receive compensation.

In July, the legislation was slated to be part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which may not be passed until February 2023, according to a recent report by a defense industry trade publication.

Meanwhile, thousands are still recovering from the massive fire and the complications it caused. Destructive floods coursed through the burn scar during the monsoon season, adding further damage to landscape and communities, and threatening Las Vegas’ water supply. Many people suffered losses, including farmers and ranchers, who are still displaced while trying to navigate an alphabet soup of federal relief programs, often with limited success.

FEMA, for example, issued denials to about 30% of individual applicants so far, according to the last figures from July. (FEMA has declined repeated requests from Source New Mexico in recent months for updated denial numbers).

The legislation that is included in the spending bill would go much further than other programs. It’s an effort to pay back lost revenue, fully rebuild homes or structures lost and restore the environment.

“This is an extraordinary assault on the environment that is the clear responsibility of the government,” Pelosi told members of the roundtable. “When something happens like a natural disaster, there is a compact between the people and the government that we will be there. But we have to be there in a timely fashion, in a way that facilitates benefits coming forward.”

The legislation that is included in the spending bill would go much further than other programs. It’s an effort to pay back lost revenue, fully rebuild homes or structures lost and restore the environment.

“This is an extraordinary assault on the environment that is the clear responsibility of the government,” Pelosi told members of the roundtable. “When something happens like a natural disaster, there is a compact between the people and the government that we will be there. But we have to be there in a timely fashion, in a way that facilitates benefits coming forward.”

This story was published earlier by Source New Mexico, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network which includes the Florida Phoenix.

 

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann is a reporter for Source New Mexico. He's been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for reporting. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.

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