Remnants of a house that the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire burned up are surrounded by dead trees in Mora County. Pictured on Sept. 12, 2022. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)
People with damaged property or homes following the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire and flooding disasters have until Friday, Oct. 7 to apply for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, unless the deadline is extended again. Other federal help meant to more fully compensate people is also on the way.
Residents who don’t have insurance or are under-insured have until midnight on that day to apply. However, FEMA spokesperson Angela Byrd said another deadline extension is anticipated, though it hasn’t been officially confirmed.
“It may get extended again, which means that it’s important to push people to register,” she said.
Last month, FEMA announced at the last moment that the Sept. 6 application deadline would be extended into October. If it’s pushed again, the application will be open for another month, Byrd said.
As of Monday, Oct. 3, FEMA had approved 1,302 applicants and allocated more than $5.4 million, Byrd said. She declined to say how many denials there have been due to the factors that go into them, such as missing application documentation, FEMA waiting on inspection information or insurance already covering assistance.
Applicants that have been denied have 60 days after the date of the determination letter to appeal the decision, even after the application deadline passes.
“If they’re denied, they’re not quite denied,” Byrd said. “So it could be a number of reasons that they could still get their application approved.”
Applicants can receive up to $39,700, and appeal if they feel they didn’t get as much as they should have under that cap.
More federal aid to come
President Joe Biden signed into law on Friday a spending package that included the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act with $2.5 billion in relief funds. This move is meant to fully compensate people and businesses, and there’s no max on how much money an individual or business can receive.
It’s FEMA’s job to distribute this money to anyone with personal injuries and to those who suffered business, income or financial losses from the wildfire and flooding that followed. Congress members have been on the ground this week in northern New Mexico meeting with the agency to discuss ongoing and future work.
FEMA must release the final regulations for the processing and payment of claims no later than Monday, Nov. 14, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) said. The agency is also working to establish the Office of Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire Claims in New Mexico.
Work has been ongoing for the last several months to get operations started as quickly as possible, according to a staffer in Leger Fernández’s office. FEMA has already designated a senior executive service employee to oversee the office and is getting staff assigned.
Leger Fernández in an email late Wednesday said FEMA plans to hire local personnel, too.
People should be able to start filing claims once the office is set up, though there is not a set timeline yet. A Government Accountability Office report said it may take many months until money actually is in the hands of the community members, according to Leger Fernández’s office, though the representative said in a statement that she’s hopeful first claims can be processed before the new year.
Leger Fernández told Source New Mexico that she and other officials have asked FEMA to streamline this process and have a navigator or claims assistant at the office for help and technical assistance. FEMA committed to having at least two permanent offices in northern New Mexico and a couple of mobile units that can travel and provide assistance for several years, too, she said.
“When I introduced this legislation, our lands, forests, and the homes of our gente were burning, they needed resources then, and they still do now. I will continue to work with FEMA so that they receive public input on the implementation of my legislation,” Leger Fernández said.
Many people have voiced frustration at FEMA following denials for individual assistance — some of which were incorrect — and delays in getting help. So now, the agency is getting feedback from officials and the public on what they can do better this time around and wants to make the process smoother and more efficient, according to Leger Fernández’s office. The representative said there will be public meetings for people to give input to FEMA.
The fire tore across Northern New Mexico over the summer after the U.S. Forest Service lit the two prescribed burns that merged into one and got out of control, leading to the largest fire in New Mexico’s history and destructive flooding that’s still happening. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a sponsor of the wildfire legislation, said in a statement that Congress made it clear “that the federal government has a moral obligation to do right by New Mexicans” through this money.
“Thanks to the dedication of the New Mexico Delegation, the passage of my Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act means more opportunities for New Mexicans and small businesses,” Luján said, “who have struggled to rebuild in the months following the fire.”
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