The burn scar of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire pictured Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source New Mexico)
The new congressional spending plan announced overnight includes $2.5 billion for those affected by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire, according to the bill text.
The spending package funds the U.S. government until Dec. 16 and includes a couple of other Democratic priorities, including $12 billion for Ukraine and $20 million to help Jackson, Miss. after its water crisis.
But northern New Mexicans will be most interested in the last provision in the 237-page bill, one regarding the biggest fire in the state’s history, ignited during a botched federal prescribed burn in April.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hinted it would be rolled into the legislation during her visit to Albuquerque on Monday.
The inclusion of the “Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act” in the spending bill means New Mexicans affected by the fire will be able to file claims to potentially be fully compensated for losses.
Compensation for lost homes, for example, is now limited to $40,000 through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But the new bill aims to fully compensate victims for structure, business or other losses during the fire and ensuing floods.
It’s not clear how many New Mexicans would file a claim under the act, or how soon it will be possible to do so.
However, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said in a news release on the Senate side, some Republicans are not yet on board with making the fire compensation part of the spending bill. A spokesperson said the GOP could put up procedural hurdles to prevent its passage even though they don’t have a majority.
Still, some members of the delegation said in a news release they were hopeful the spending plan would continue to include fire compensation.
The federal government’s responsibility for starting the fire elicited increasing calls for the U.S. to pay victims compensation. U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat representing the affected region, introduced the legislation that also makes the feds liable about a month after the fire began.
The Senate will begin procedural votes this week on the spending bill, known as a continuing resolution. The deadline to avoid a government shutdown is Oct. 1.
The fire compensation legislation was also sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM).
The delegation, in a news release, applauded the inclusion of the act in the continuing resolution. It was previously slated to be rolled into the National Defense Authorization Act, which is still being deliberated.
Leger Fernandez, in a statement she hoped the budget proposal would pass without changes.
“We are hopeful the budget proposal will pass with the funding intact, but understand there are many uncertainties,” she said in a statement. “While we monitor final passage of the budget proposal, I will not let up my fight to get compensation for our fire victims signed into law.”
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