LAS VEGAS, N.M. (KRQE) – As the recovery process for the devastating Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire continues, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is focusing on helping community members navigate the claims process – and sharing good news along the way.
That job is up to the Claims Office Advocate and FEMA’s “navigators.” They provide advice, help, and a contact point for the community.
“I have the ability to instill hope when claimants have lost all hope,” says Paula Gutierrez, FEMA’s Claims Office Advocate. “Sometimes going to an office is not something that a lot of people are comfortable with. So, we make it really flexible. If we need to meet someone in their respective home or at another alternate location, we make ourselves available to be able to meet the claimants where they are.”
So far, FEMA says they’ve disbursed $37 million in compensation payments for the fire. That includes covering the cost of things like evacuation expenses, homeowner’s insurance deductibles, and National Flood Insurance Program property claims. As that money has gone out to the community, FEMA has highlighted some recovery stories.
One of those is the story of Micahlynn Kaza, who purchased a ranch in Mora just before the fire. She was able to evacuate her 12 horses, but her home and cats were lost to the fire, FEMA says.
FEMA’s navigators are currently working with Kaza to get through the claims process. And Kaza is just one of those FEMA is hoping to connect with.
Ultimately, FEMA expects to give out over $100 million by the end of 2023. And over the next two years, they expect to disburse over $1 billion.
To get that done, Gutierrez, the Claims Office Advocate says they’re hoping to continue connecting with community members to answer questions, work through claim issues, and make the process as easy as possible.
“We have a whole team of staff that is committed to ensuring that each and every one of our claimants get compensated and to be able to help them through that process,” Gutierrez says. “I really want to be able to let people know that the Advocate’s Office is really here to be a resource for people in those situations, that maybe are getting frustrated or are losing patience because things are taking longer than expected.”
In addition to offering resources via phone (505 403-3373) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Advocate’s Office is also hosting community walk-ins at the Mora County Commission Chambers every Tuesday night through the end of October. Community members can come get help at the informal sessions from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
“If people are having issues and challenges, we want an opportunity [to connect] outside of the our public facing claims offices,” Gutierrez says. “We want for them to be able to have an avenue where they can come to us and let us know some of their issues and concerns so that we can be able to start helping them individually.”