Sen. Jeff Merkley

Sen. Jeff Merkley

Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, alongside Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR-04), announced Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is making a number of changes to reduce barriers for underserved populations seeking to access federal assistance in the wake of future natural disasters, including wildfires.

The announcement comes a year after the 2020 Labor Day fires — and their plumes of hazardous smoke — devastated families, businesses, and communities across Oregon, and after Merkley led Wyden and DeFazio in pressing FEMA to address obstacles that have made it harder for some natural disaster survivors to access resources from the agency.

“Last year’s Labor Day fires were an apocalyptic tragedy. The blazes claimed lives, destroyed businesses, forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate and destroyed or damaged more than 5,000 buildings across Oregon — thousands of which were homes belonging to low-income families,” said Merkley. “The last thing anyone should have to worry about after making it through this kind of traumatic event is jumping through hoop after hoop of bureaucratic nonsense, or not being able to make crucial repairs they need to stay safe when they return to their home. I’m relieved that FEMA is heeding our call to make it easier for survivors of future disasters to get the help they need to get back on their feet as quickly as possible, and I will continue to work with the agency to make sure these reforms are meaningfully implemented. These, and additional changes, are needed to ensure that all Oregonians receive the resources they need to cope with our changing climate.”

“When wildfires or another disaster strike any community in our state, every Oregonian trying to put their lives back together deserves equal and speedy access to FEMA resources,” Wyden said. “I’m gratified that FEMA has responded to our request to cut through needless red tape that slowed the delivery of aid after the 2020 Labor Day fires. I’ll keep watchdogging these reforms to ensure they’re carried out so all survivors of wildfires or other natural disasters in Oregon can count on the aid that’s needed for a full recovery.”

“I am glad that FEMA has heard our calls and will take steps to expedite the distribution of federal assistance to future disaster survivors,” said DeFazio. “That said, this assistance is still desperately needed for Oregonians affected by the 2020 wildfire season, particularly low-income communities. As Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over FEMA, I will continue fighting to ensure that impacted Oregonians receive the federal assistance they require to recover.”

Specifically, FEMA is moving to expand the types of documentation it accepts to prove ownership or occupancy of a resident for homeowners and renters; expand financial assistance for disaster-caused disability and require that components, like ramps and grab bars, be installed in survivors’ homes when needed; and provide expanded housing assistance — including resources to cover disaster-caused property damage — and other needs-assistance funding, including funds to repair homes impacted by disaster-caused mold growth.

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