State lawmakers propose bill to help fire victims

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Some assistance for those impacted by the wildfires is already flowing in, but state leaders in Washington, D.C. are working to bring even more relief to New Mexicans.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján and congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández introduced a new bill Wednesday that would open up unlimited funding to those who need it. The damage the potential bill would cover, falls into three main categories: loss of property, business loss and financial loss.

“I believed that more needed to be done,” said Luján. 

Two state delegates are working to make sure more aid is available for those impacted by wildfires burning in northern New Mexico.

“I introduced, in the House, the Hermits Peak Fire Relief bill,” said Leger Fernández. “That is intended to provide compensation to all those individuals or organizations or counties that have suffered direct harm because of the Hermit’s Peak Fire.”

The bill addresses the loss of landscapes, clean water and grazing areas, among other things.

“For loss of salary, relocation fees, damage to homes right now,” said Luján. 

This is all on top of the aid U.S. President Joe Biden already signed off on last week. Right now, there’s no way to know how much has been lost.

“We have not in any way limited the amount of money that could be paid out in compensation, you cannot do that until the fire is over,” Leger Fernández said. 

Legislators did place a limit of two years, after the fire is over, for individuals, local governments and organizations to assess damages and make their claims.

The potential bill is tailored to New Mexicans who are uninsured, but it would also cover whatever insurance companies cannot. 

State legislators are also taking action to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Leger Fernández wrote to the U.S. Forest Service last week to ask about its role in starting the Hermits Peak Fire after it lost control over a prescribed burn. She says she’s still waiting for a full response, but she did speak with the chief forester Tuesday.

“He shared with me some additional facts that they have announced an investigation into the prescribed burn, and how that got out of control. So I’m looking forward to that. The chief forester also told me that he will be spending time in New Mexico, I think he should be there today,” said the congresswoman. 

The bill is only the first step in the legislative process. It may be a while before families get any of the proposed extra relief.