Gov signs $100M bill for disaster recovery and must figure out how to get millions to northern NM

Zero-interest loans will go to FEMA-approved projects, and about $70 million could be ready to go out the door

By: - February 21, 2023 5:05 am
A construction machine sits in dirt off the road next to a white car. Rocks a re piled on top of culverts. The burn scar is in the distance.

Construction work in Mora County to prevent flooding from the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire burn scar. Pictured on Sept. 14, 2022. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

New Mexico’s promise to give millions in disaster recovery will make its way to the northern part of the state recovering from the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire for counties that have their paperwork in order.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 6 into law on Monday, setting aside $100 million from the state for zero-interest aid loans to communities affected by the fire and floods that followed.

Counties and governments can use these funds, once they get the deposit, to begin work on public infrastructure projects that are approved by the federal government.

Only local entities approved for reimbursable Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance Project funds can get these loans. According to the new state law, once local agencies have the federal dollars, they have a month to pay back the state.

Right now, 21 projects in New Mexico are approved by FEMA, according to David Lienemann, a spokesperson with the state’s emergency management department.

The estimated costs of all the federally approved projects currently add up to about $70 million, he said.

FEMA only has $6.4 million in public assistance funding obligations as of Feb. 17, 2023, according to the agency’s website.

If all the local agencies immediately apply for full state funding, then less than a third of the loan dollars remain. 

Louie Trujillo is the mayor of Las Vegas, N.M. He said the city likely won’t use the loans immediately but may need them later. 

Las Vegas’ main concern is its water system, which the federal government has committed to pay more than $140 million to cover. Las Vegas got its first check, $2.6 million, earlier this month, and a series of installments will follow later.

FEMA cuts first check for Las Vegas, NM water supply restoration

Trujillo said a lot of unknowns in the future remain, and the city could need the state dollars down the road. He said the next monsoon season or even the spring runoff are examples that could cause more wreckage.

Trujillo said he’s glad the disaster relief is there to fall back on, “should we need something in an emergency.”

“It sort of gives local governments a little bit of comfort knowing that that money’s there,” he said.

Veronica Serna is the Mora County commissioner. She said there’s no way Mora could afford the necessary repairs without the loans and already has dozens of disaster sites officials are prepared to fix up as soon as the money hits their project accounts.

“I’m really excited about this,” she said. “Of course, we could’ve used it yesterday.”

How soon the money will actually come through remains to be seen.

The legislation included an emergency clause, which means it can go into effect immediately, but state agencies still have to figure out an application process for the loans. The Department of Finance and Administration will be in charge of handing out the money.

Maddy Hayden, spokesperson for the governor’s office, said state agencies are still working out the application and distribution process.

The state can give out loans until April 2024. Any money that is not spent by that date will go back to the New Mexico General Fund.


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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.