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Local legislators vote to fund disaster and wildfire relief

Local legislators vote to fund disaster and wildfire relief

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – This year we've seen catastrophic wildfires in eastern Washington and Oregon, now we're witnessing it again in California.

The House passed a bill Thursday for emergency funding for natural disasters across the country from hurricanes to wildfires, and the bill now awaits the Senate’s approval.

The disaster relief will provide $36.5 billion in funding towards disaster relief for recent hurricanes and fires.

Specifically it includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), and $16 billion for debt relief for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which now needs additional funds to make necessary insurance claims payments to individuals.

In addition, it includes a provision for the Disaster Nutrition Assistance Program (DNAP) to enable low-income residents in Puerto Rico to receive the same emergency nutrition assistance that other hurricane-affected states already receive.

However, it also includes $576.5 million to go toward fighting wildfires and recovery efforts.

"It's been a really difficult year and there've been many days in eastern Washington where we've been told ‘Don’t go outside’ because the air quality is so poor,” Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said. “It’s really frightening when you get to that point where you can't go anywhere to get clean air to breathe."

Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers and Congressman Dan Newhouse said this relief package takes a large step to address wildfires destroying the West.

"Congress took action to address wildfires, such as we've been experiencing, similar to the way we address other natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes," Newhouse said.

Previously wildfires weren't considered natural disasters, precluding them from being part of the natural disaster response through federal agencies like FEMA.

Both Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers said the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for disaster Relief Requirements Act, which passed Thursday, is a temporary fix for the urgent need right now.

After securing this aid, they said they'll be moving forward with new legislation to find a more long-term solution to fix forest management and fire borrowing.

"Every year the Forest Service is spending more and more money on fighting fires, over 50 percent of their operation budget now is fighting fires instead of preventing them," McMorris Rodgers said.

"We're hoping to break that cycle to keep the funding in place so that forest management can occur,” Newhouse added. “And then be able to respond in a different way with different funds available for fighting the fires when they do take place."

Congressman Newhouse and Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers hope to impress upon their colleagues across the country who have been experiencing other disasters to understand that fixing our forest situation also needs to be a top priority.

“I am grateful that the Trump Administration supported our request to include much-needed resources and reforms in its recommendation," Newhouse said. "This disaster relief package goes a long way to supporting communities suffering from catastrophic wildfires, and we must now act to fix our broken forest management system and end the practice of fire borrowing once and for all.”

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