House passes Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act

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LAS VEGAS, N.M. — The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives Thursday. If signed into law, the bill would authorize full compensation for New Mexico residents and business owners for losses caused by the largest wildfire in state history.

The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act was introduced by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández and U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján. It was cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Yvette Herrell and Melanie Stansbury.

The act aims to cover what FEMA assistance does not cover.

“For example, a regular FEMA declaration is not going to cover the loss of what they call a second home,” Leger Fernández said. “Well, many people lost their generational home. They might be living in Santa Fe, in Las Vegas, while they work, but their home that they inherited from their father and their grandfather burned down. But we want to make sure that people are paid for the loss of any home.”

The act would also cover the loss of equipment, livestock and income. It’s also not just damage from the flames – the bill would cover what has happened since the monsoons moved in, carrying debris and ash through people’s properties.

“That flooding would not have occurred if it weren’t for the fire,” Leger Fernández said.

This act won’t benefit anyone who suffered a loss from other wildfires in the state.

“And that’s because these two fires were started by the Forest Service,” Leger Fernández said. “So we are saying the Forest Service, the federal government needs to take responsibility and pay the claims for people who have been hurt.”

Now, the act has to pass the Senate – where it sits now. Leger Fernández is encouraging anyone struggling to get help from a federal agency to contact her office.

About the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act:

  • Establishes an Office of Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Claims within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to receive, process, and pay claims in accordance with this Act.
  • Described allowable damages including: 
    • Loss of property, including: an uninsured or underinsured property loss; a decrease in the value of real property; damage to physical infrastructure including irrigation infrastructure; a cost resulting from lost subsistence from hunting, fishing, firewood gathering, timbering, grazing, or agricultural activities conducted on land damaged by the fire; a cost of reforestation or revegetation on Tribal or non-Federal land;
    • Business loss, to include: damage to tangible assets or inventory; business interruption losses; overhead costs; and employee wages for work not performed;
    • Financial loss, to include: increased mortgage interest costs; in insurance deductible; a temporary living or relocation expense; lost wages or personal income; emergency staffing expenses; debris removal and other cleanup costs; a premium for flood insurance; and costs for efforts to reduce the risk of wildfire, flood, or other natural disaster in the counties specified in the major disaster declaration; and
    • Any other damages that the FEMA Administrator determines to be appropriate for inclusion as property, business, or financial loss.
  • Provides that the Federal cost share of assistance provided for State or local projects or under the Other Needs Program Assistance shall be 100%.