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FEMA announces final rules, expanded criteria, for fire victims

A woman stands at a podium making a speech while another woman standing next to her uses sign language
Alice Fordham
Claims agency director Angela Gladwell said the process of compensating fire victims was expected to take five to six years

After a long wait, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has announced a final set of rules for New Mexicans claiming compensation after the Calf Canyon/Hermit's Peak fire.

Hundreds of people and communities affected by last year's catastrophic fires are entitled to federal compensation because the fires began as prescribed burns by the Forest Service.

In November last year an interim set of rules was produced outlining what people could claim. After extensive public comment and revision, the claims program director Angela Gladwell on Tuesday announced a final set of rules.

"This marks a very important milestone for our program," she said.

There are a number of significant changes from the interim version, including a change to compensate people for all losses of trees on their property. Previously that compensation was capped at 25%. Gladwell said the sums claimed will likely be significant.

"The tree loss in the impacted area, we're talking about upwards of a billion dollars or more in losses," she said.

A 25% cap on risk reduction work on land now more prone to, for instance, flooding has also been removed, and compensation for reduced property value is now included in the final rule. Compensation allowed for mental health treatment is expanded.

Last week, in comments to the Legislative Finance Committee, Gladwell said the agency was aiming to disburse $1 billion by January 2025. That is about a quarter of what was appropriated by Congress for the claims process. When asked about the long timeframe and comparatively small amount, she said FEMA has to work in coordination with state agencies

"We are part of the overall New Mexico recovery effort, right? We're one piece of that puzzle that is in a coordinated New Mexico recovery strategy across the interagency."

She added that the process was estimated to take five to six years in total.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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