McMorris Rodgers, Cantwell Applaud Approval of Disaster Declaration for Spokane County Following Devastating Wildfires

Washington, D.C. – Today, President Joe Biden declared that a major disaster exists in Spokane County and ordered federal assistance to supplement recovery efforts in the aftermath of the Gray Fire and the Oregon Road Fire in August 2023. After the announcement, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) issued the following statements:

“Today’s long overdue approval of a Major Disaster Declaration for Spokane County will be life-changing for those who lost everything to the Gray and Oregon Road Fires,” said Rodgers. “It will unlock the financial resources and certainty they desperately need to begin rebuilding their homes and piecing their lives back together. I’m proud of the bipartisan efforts that went into getting this assistance approved, and I’m grateful the wait is finally over for our communities.”

“The President’s Major Disaster Declaration is a critical step in helping Spokane County communities rebuild and it will support the recovery of the more than 1,000 displaced residents from last year’s devastating wildfires,” said Cantwell. “While the approval of this declaration is key to helping these communities heal, this is another stark reminder of how slow federal assistance can be to arrive in the aftermath of a disaster. I will continue working with my colleagues on legislative changes to speed  disaster recovery aid delivery to rural communities,”

The disaster declaration makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Spokane County. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, debris removal, small business loans, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. Federal funding is also available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in Spokane County. Finally, federal funding is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated areas can begin applying for assistance at www.DisasterAssistance.gov, by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362), or by using the FEMA App. Anyone using a relay service, such as video relay service (VRS), captioned telephone service or others, can give FEMA the number for that service.

Rep. McMorris Rodgers and Sen. Cantwell were joined by the following Spokane County Commissioners in applauding today’s announcement:

“In the wake of the unparalleled devastation our region experienced last summer, burning more than 21,000 acres, and claiming hundreds of homes, today’s federal declaration from the Biden Administration is welcome news. I extend our sincere thanks to the federal delegation for their steadfast advocacy, including Senator Murray, Senator Cantwell, and Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers and their staff. Their tireless support is appreciated, and I believe was key to unlocking this assistance,” said Mary Kuney, Chair of the Board of County Commissioners, District 4. “This much-needed support will make a difference in helping the victims move forward with next steps.”

“I commend our federal delegation for their unwavering support during this challenging time. I deeply appreciate all the efforts they undertook to make this declaration happen. This long-awaited news is a testament to our shared commitment to recovery, and addressing the urgent needs of our community,” said Al French, District 5. “I will continue to work with our county departments and local agencies to cut red tape and pave the way for a speedy and streamlined rebuilding process. I also want to commend Mayor Teri Cooper of Medical Lake for her advocacy, for stepping up to chair the Long-Term Recovery Organization. Working together, we will keep the needs of fire victims front and center, and ensure assistance gets to the people who need it most.”

“From the day the fires started, I’ve been heartened by the overwhelming resilience and perseverance of Elk and our surrounding communities. I will continue fighting for my constituents to ensure we can rebuild and recover. Today’s federal declaration, while it took longer than we hoped, is a step in the right direction,” said Josh Kerns, District 3. “We will continue to advocate at the state-level, and coordinate with all our partners, to ensure resources are made available and that any roadblocks to recovery are removed. I especially want to commend the amazing community partners who have united behind ‘Elk Strong,’ and demonstrate how much we can accomplish by neighbor helping neighbor.”

BACKGROUND:

In October, Rep. McMorris Rodgers and Sen. Cantwell sent a letter to the Biden administration in support of Governor Jay Inslee’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration following the Gray and Oregon Road fires. Last month, the lawmakers sent another letter asking for an immediate update on the request. Two days later, Rep. McMorris Rodgers led a roundtable with local, state, and federal officials to discuss the ongoing cleanup efforts following the wildfires.

In November, Rep. McMorris Rodgers introduced the Making Aid for Local Disasters Equal Now (MALDEN) Act, which would improve coordination between local, state, tribal, and federal agencies to deliver resources faster in the aftermath of disastrous wildfires. Last month, Sen. Cantwell and U.S. Senator James Risch (R-ID) introduced companion legislation in the Senate. The MALDEN Act is named for the town of Malden, Wash., which was destroyed by the 2020 Babb Road Fire.

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