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Amidst New Wildfire Season, Oregon Lawmakers Demand Answers From FEMA

Brian Bull

A delegation of Oregon lawmakers is pressing FEMA to detail its steps for improving disaster assistance after major wildfires.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is among those signed on to a letterto FEMA’s administrator.  The agency has taken heat for rejecting most of the disaster relief claims from last year’s wildfire victims.

“We really need these federal officials to jumpstart improvements in how these procedures work, Senator Wyden told KLCC.

"Because Oregonians really feel that after they’ve been hit by a disaster, these horrendous weather challenges, the last thing they need is to get hit with another round of excessive bureaucratic red tape.”

This push comes as several major wildfires are burning across the region, including the Bootleg Fire – the largest currently in the country.

The questions Oregon's delegation posed to FEMA adminstrator Deanna Criswell include:

  • 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?

Both of Oregon's U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden signed the letter, as did the state's U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio, Suzanne Bonamici, Clilff Bentz, Earl Blumenauer, and Kurt Schrader.
Resources & Information:

FEMA itself has a webpage dedicated to explaining why an application for assistance has been denied, as well as information on the appeals process here.

Further questions or discussion related to ineligibility status can be addressed via the FEMA Helpline at (800)621-3362.  Those requiring teletypewriters (TTY) can use (800)462-7585.  And people who use 711 or Video Relay Service are advised to call (800)621-3362. 

Copyright 2021, KLCC. 

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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