Fiona Sinclair stands in the ruins of what used to be a friend’s house in the burn scar of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)
More than $1 billion in additional compensation for victims of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire was approved by the United States House of Representatives as part of a 4,100-page spending package that’s heading to President Joe Biden’s desk.
The $1.45 billion comes on top of $2.5 billion passed earlier this year to pay property damage and other types of claims to the fire victims of New Mexico’s biggest-ever wildfire, which started after the United States Forest Service botched prescribed burns. .
In total, fire victims will receive $3.95 billion in aid, minus administrative costs, and $140 million to revamp the drinking water system in Las Vegas, N.M., a town of about 14,000 people downriver of the fire. Floods in the burn scar contaminated the city’s reservoirs.
Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have hailed the multi-billion-dollar program as “historic” and said the money will go to fully compensating victims of the fire, who up to this point received limited payments — if they received any — from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Still, the amount for N.M. approved Friday by Congress is lower than the initial request — $2.9 billion — from President Biden’s administration.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez told Source New Mexico earlier this week that the amount was halved during negotiations, along with many other proposals.
“That’s the negotiation,” she said Wednesday. “A lot of things got cut.”
In addition to the money for fire victims here, the $1.7 trillion package contains dozens of new initiatives, including some regarding presidential vote certifications and new protections for pregnant workers.
The bipartisan vote Friday was 225-201, with one member voting “present.” The U.S. Senate voted 68-29 to approve the bill Thursday after adding several bipartisan amendments to the package.
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