The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced final regulations for the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act on Monday. These regulations govern how nearly $4 billion of federal money will be spent in assisting people and communities impacted by the fire.
“This significant milestone comes as a result of the feedback received during the public comment period,” the agency states in a fact sheet.
FEMA is encouraging people who were impacted by the fire to submit a notice of loss. That will enable the claims office to initiate the process of getting them compensation.
Notice of loss forms can be found here. The completed notices of loss forms can be emailed to email@example.com. They can also be mailed to FEMA’s Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Claims Office, P.O. Box 1329 Santa Fe, NM 87504. People can also visit one of three claims office locations that are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Those locations are at the Mora County Courthouse, 1 Courthouse Drive in Mora, or in Mills Plaza at 216 Mills Ave. in Las Vegas or at 1711 Llano Street, Suite E. in Santa Fe next to Mucho Gourmet Sandwich Shoppe.
The claim process is supposed to be simple and people should not need the help of attorneys during the process. Because of that, FEMA is not reimbursing people for legal fees incurred in the process.
As of Aug. 17, the Claims Office had reimbursed New Mexicans more than $27 million. But, despite that, many of the people who were impacted by the devastating wildfire have not received compensation even as communities continue to try to rebuild infrastructure.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham addressed some of those impacts and what the regulations mean for people who were impacted by the fire.
“In the summer of 2022, we saw livelihoods destroyed, families displaced, and homes lived in for generations burned to the ground by a wildfire caused by the federal government,” she said. “Today, the thousands of New Mexicans affected by the worst wildfire in our state’s history are significantly closer to being made whole, knowing that meaningful, direct relief from the federal government is finally on the way.”
She said the $3.95 billion will help New Mexicans rebuild their lives and communities.
The regulations released on Monday include changes that mirror requests made by New Mexico leaders including U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján as well as the governor.
Luján, a Democrat, introduced the act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden last year.
Those include removing the 25 percent compensation cap for trees and reforestation as well as a 25 percent cap on compensation for risk reduction activities. It also adds a paragraph about infrastructure loss, particularly related to acequias.
FEMA also released a fact sheet about revegetation and reforestation claims.
The regulations also expand the compensation window for out-of-pocket mental health expenses from April 6, 2024 to Nov. 14, 2024.
In a press release, Luján said he welcomes the announcement of the final regulations that are needed to implement the legislation.
“This vital legislation helps New Mexicans who lost their homes, businesses, and livelihoods as a result of the fires recover,” he said in the statement.
Luján said it is the federal government’s moral obligation to help New Mexicans impacted by the fire because the U.S. Forest Service started both the blazes that eventually merged to become the largest wildfire in state history.
“The $3.95 billion secured through this legislation goes above and beyond traditional federal recovery programs. At every turn, I pressed the federal government to work quickly and more efficiently to get relief out the door,” he said. “In January, I sent a detailed letter to FEMA requesting changes to the Claims Office process to better reflect the geographic, economic, and cultural aspects of the communities. The final regulations show FEMA listened – from removing the 25 percent formulas on trees, landscaping and mitigation efforts, to more clearly incorporating damages that occurred after or were worsened by the fires, to an expansion of the timeline to receive reimbursements for mental health expenses.”
While he said the process will not be perfect, Luján said the final regulations provide details about how New Mexicans can be compensated for the damage.
“The final regulations clearly lay out how impacted New Mexicans can receive assistance while ensuring that compensation reaches those who need it most. Now, I will continue to work with the Administration and state and local partners to get this funding out to families as quickly as possible,” he said.
Lujan Grisham encouraged New Mexicans who were impacted by the fire to apply for the assistance.
“Now, the federal government must focus on getting these resources out as quickly as possible to the New Mexicans affected by the fire with an eye on cutting through red tape and making this process as easy as possible for those seeking funding,” she said. “I will continue to hold FEMA accountable for their role in the worst disaster in our state’s history.”