*Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with comments from FEMA.
NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – It’s been more than a year since New Mexico’s largest wildfire began and more than a year that locals are still waiting for federal funds to cover costs. Now, some of New Mexico’s politicians are pointing the finger at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But the agency says they’re rolling out the program in record time.
After the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire burned more than 300,000 acres and hundreds of structures near Las Vegas, New Mexico, the state’s federal representatives asked Congress for aid. President Biden gave his signature of approval in September 2022. But residents are still waiting for funds.
“It is vitally important that our communities are able to begin restoring their lands and begin mitigation efforts to protect their homes and properties from future flooding or fire,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D), Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D), and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D) said in a joint letter to FEMA. “Further delay will result in a significant setback in efforts to rebuild and recover.”
The lawmakers claim FEMA’s “failure” to finalize regulations surrounding the distribution of $2.5 billion worth of funds has confused and caused mistrust within the local community. And they asked FEMA for answers about why funding is taking so long.
KRQE News 13 reached out to FEMA to learn more about the allegations of delay. In an email, they told us that they have “met all public commitments,” including opening three offices available to the public (in Mora, Las Vegas, and Santa Fe, New Mexico).
“This is the fastest that the agency has implemented a brand-new program of this size,” FEMA said. “FEMA is committed to ensuring a simplified claims process and providing one-on-one assistance to those who submit a claim with the assistance of claims navigators that will work with claimants to help them understand and navigate the claims process.”
They also note that it may take a few more months to complete the rollout: “Although we don’t have control over the timeline, we expect it could take several months. Meanwhile, we feel confident we can address many of the comments on the rule through our current implementation of the program while we finalize the rule,” FEMA said.
FEMA did recently complete a public input process to shape funding regulations. The agency also announced hiring efforts to staff the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon claims office which will be the central stop for locals seeking aid.