Oregon Lawmakers Pressure FEMA

In the wake of last year’s historic wildfires, and with new ones already started, Oregon lawmakers are pressuring the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide clear steps for improving its disaster assistance, which has been an issue for several months. 

Last year, FEMA took flak for failing to assist a large number of Oregonians that were displaced by wildfires. In fact, according to OPB, “More than 24,000 Oregonians applied for federal disaster assistance after the catastrophic 2020 wildfires. About 57% of them were denied.” 

This means that out of the 24,000 people who requested aid, roughly 14,000 were denied due to varied issues. 

Paperwork and bureaucratic red-tape prevented a large number of affected people from being able to recover quickly. This is where the letter sent by Oregon lawmakers comes into play. In the letter, Oregon lawmakers are asking some important questions of FEMA: 

  • What steps have you taken to ensure that there are sufficient commodities in FEMA distribution centers in the event of a major disaster due to wildfire, and can you provide a detailed accounting of what is immediately available in FEMA’s nearest distribution centers? 
  • What steps have you taken to streamline and strengthen approvals for registrants for FEMA’s Individual and Households Program (IHP) to ensure that Oregonians who need federal assistance receive it? 
  • What steps have you taken to streamline review of applications for IHP and lessen the complexity of associated communication with registrants in light of the unprecedented number of requests received by FEMA resulting from recent natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic? 
  • What resources does FEMA have available to help communities respond to the adverse impacts of wildfire smoke in the event of a major disaster? 

While this isn’t  a hard-and-fast solution, things rarely are when it comes to new federal and state policies. And considering the Bootleg Fire in Klamath and Lake counties is already the largest in the country, these changes couldn’t come sooner. 

Among those who wrote the letter were Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and Oregon’s State Representatives Suzanne Bonamici, Cliff Bentz, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, and Peter DeFazio. 

Help & Information 

If you or someone you know was affected by Oregon’s 2020 wildfires or current ones, there are still resources available. You can contact the following help lines for more information: 

The Safe + Strong Helpline offers free and confidential counseling and other resources to adults and children alike. They can help with common disaster-related issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress. They can be reached at the above link or at (800) 923-4357 

The Debris Hotline can be contacted for help with wildfire-related debris at (503) 934-1700 or at the listed link. 

There are countless resources available — it’s just a bit hard to find them. Further help, including general information, legal assistance, and disaster loans, is located at this FEMA webpage.   

If your application was denied or you’re preparing an application, be sure to check on this webpage for further information. Finally, additional queries about (in)eligibility status can be found by calling the FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-3362, or (800) 462-7585 (TTY helpline). 

By Ethan Hauck