December 9, 2022

AG asks for assistance to help New Mexicans access post-fire disaster relief

Courtesy photo

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier this week requesting assistance for New Mexico families affected by the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fires who are seeking financial relief from the federal government.

“I write to you regarding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s current rulemaking under the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act,” the letter dated Dec. 6 states. “I am also very concerned with the lack of progress we have made recovering our environment and cultural heritage for our communities.”

The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire burned 341,735 acres. The wildfire began as a prescribed fire in April near Las Vegas. The fire was declared 100 percent contained in October.

In September, President Joe Biden signed the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act which allotted $2.5 billion to assist New Mexicans and tribal nations affected by the fire.

However, Balderas’ office says in the letter that the processes to get aid are cumbersome.

“For example, many families continue to struggle to access disaster relief funding because families are simply without the resources even to meet the burdens of the regulatory process,” the letter states. “Further, many families and the community associations they rely upon, like acequia associations, are unable to quantify the damages they suffer because they lack the resources to hire scientific experts who can properly assess their damages. These are not the only challenges New Mexicans face in their effort to recover from the disaster, but they highlight the need for flexible, localized regulation in the post-disaster recovery effort.”

Balderas’ letter lists three suggestions he thinks are critical to the law and its impact on New Mexico communities.

According to the law, FEMA may appoint a program manager.

Balderas requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s, or FEMA, appoint a program manager with both a local connection and prior judicial experience.

The second suggestion is to allow claims for non-economic damages.

“The Act gives broad latitude to FEMA to permit claims for damages that ‘the Administrator determines to be appropriate’,” the letter states. “Due to the magnitude of the fire’s devastation on these communities, it is imperative that these families have an opportunity to seek redress beyond simply economic damages. The devastation from these fires impact every facet of these communities’ existence, and they will surely have lasting and detrimental impact, which cannot be compensated simply by paying for a family’s insurance deductible, if insurance existed, or for temporary relocation expenses.”

Thirdly, Balderas wants the cap on tree damage recovery removed.

“The initial regulations limit the amount a fire victim may recover for damages to trees to 25 percent of the pre-fire value of the property,” the letter states. “This cap is contrary to New Mexico law and will prevent fire victims from obtaining a full recovery, particularly given the unique circumstances of this fire in which properties with many acres of trees and small homes are commonplace.”

For more information on the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Act visit the FEMA website or call 1-800-621-3362.