NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Many families do not have a home to return to after it was destroyed in the state’s largest wildfire in northern New Mexico. Months later, they’re still waiting for federal disaster relief money to help them move on.
Like hundreds of other people from Mora – René Ashtara lost everything in the Hermit’s Peak Calf Canyon fire. She shares, “It’s really hard to describe when you see everything in your life burned down.” She’s left wondering when federal help will arrive. “I don’t feel special and there are so many people going through this.”
Ashtara has been denied by FEMA three times. “They say it’s denied on proof that I haven’t provided proof of occupancy, nor proof of ownership, yet, I’ve provided everything they asked me for all three times.”
A spokesperson for FEMA, Dasha Castillo, explains the main reason for these denials and encourages people to reach out for help if they don’t understand something. “The most common reason why someone may be deemed ineligible, one is pending documentation. And two may be if you were referred by FEMA, to SBA,” she said.
FEMA is working with the small business administration to get help to renters, homeowners, and business owners. But the SBA uses disaster loans and if you don’t have the ability to repay you must go back to apply with FEMA. People trying to get help say the process is frustrating. Ashtara said, “To navigate any of these federal programs, you have to have, like, really intensive information and education on how to use a computer, on how to like, upload documents…do all the things.”
Ashtara says she has applied for an SBA loan and won’t stop trying until she gets the help she needs. She’s prepared to rebuild even though she knows things won’t be the same. “We’ll persevere but it’s kind of a thing that you never think is gonna happen, right?” If you would like to help with Ashtara’s rebuilding efforts you can donate online.
If you have been denied by FEMA – you are able to appeal that decision 60 days after receiving that determination letter. President Biden visited New Mexico earlier this month and encouraged families to keep applying. According to FEMA, more than 1,000 applications have been approved so far.