The federal government is responsible for lighting the largest wildfire in New Mexico history. So when President Joe Biden arrives there this afternoon, he will be faced with this question: Will the federal government also be responsible for paying the full cost of the damages?
During his visit, which will last approximately five hours today, Biden will receive a wildfire briefing from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham alongside other state and local officials, but there are no plans to investigate damaged areas.
The state’s largest newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, wrote it bluntly in an editorial, saying, “Welcome to NM, Mr. President; we definitely need your help.”
Earlier this year, the US Forest Service conducted prescription burns in two rugged areas east of Santa Fe, with the aim of reducing the risk of wildfires. But those attempts failed.
Driven by wind and drought, the fires spread, eventually merging into the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires, which have charred nearly 500 square miles since April. It has forced 18,000 evacuations and demanded more than 300 hundred homes in some of the state’s poorest areas.
Biden issued a major disaster declaration for five counties hit by wildfires in early May, and this week expanded eligibility for federal aid in three of those counties. The funds will cover 75% of the recovery costs, but state elected officials say that’s not enough.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation this week wrote a letter to the president citing the “seriousness and life and death of this crisis” and urging Biden to “act without delay and request the State of New Mexico for 100 percent coverage of federal aid.”
The state is also fighting several other major wildfires.
There are about 4,000 wildfires on the ground fighting these fires and working to protect residents and their property, a White House official told CBS News. In addition, the Small Business Administration has embedded disaster recovery specialists and public information officers in the field with FEMA at the Lincoln County Disaster Recovery Centers and Business Recovery Center to work with individuals, families, and businesses to request to file for low-interest disaster loans that supplement what federal aid and insurance don’t cover, the official said. The SBA has already granted nearly $2.6 million in disaster loans.
Governor Grisham toured damaged areas this week and said she will continue to “work to get a commitment from the federal government” to waive the state’s 25% cost burden.
“Given the federal government’s role in lighting these fires, it is critical that it does everything possible to help the new Mexicans recover,” Democratic Senator Ben Ray Lujan said in a statement to the Santa Fe newspaper. New Mexican.