Oregon leaders ask feds to pay more for wildfire recovery


FEMA typically covers 75% of eligible recovery costs, but Gov. Brown is asking for a substantial increase

Buildings are engulfed in flames as a wildfire ravages the central Oregon town of Talent near Medford late Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (Kevin Jantzer via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon’s federal delegation is calling on President Joe Biden to approve additional federal funds to respond to the state’s wildfire damage.

The wildfires, the majority of which started over Labor Day weekend, burned more than 1 million acres and destroyed more than 4,000 homes, according to state estimates.

Total disaster costs will exceed $1 billion, according to a letter Gov. Kate Brown sent Biden last week. Brown’s letter went on the request that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) cover 100% of emergency work related to wildfire recovery for 180 days — Wednesday marks 163 days since the wildfires began — and 90% of emergency work for the subsequent 90 days. Emergency work includes debris removal and protective measures.

Brown went on to request the federal government cover 90% of the cost of restoring infrastructure such as roads, water control facilities, public buildings, utilities, parks and other facilities.

Typically, FEMA provides 75% and states pay the remaining 25% of the costs, but the president can override that amount, FEMA spokesperson Paul Corah told KOIN 6 News. States requesting a cost-share adjustment receive it about a quarter of the time, according to Corah.

A letter signed by senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, as well as representatives Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, Suzanne Bonamici and Cliff Bentz, was sent to President Biden Tuesday, imploring him to approve Brown’s request.

“Oregon and her citizens are suffering under the strain of enormous calamity,” the letter reads in part. “State and local officials are working valiantly with their Federal government partners to respond and recover as quickly and efficiently as possible. We are grateful for this partnership and respectfully request you further extend that partnership by increasing the Federal share for this disaster.”

Corah noted that the wildfires came as Oregon was already struggling with the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’ll be a big boost to the state of Oregon if they get the money that they’re looking for,” he said.

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