Every day, Mike Thompson hears a new story about how last month’s fires in Northern California have affected people’s lives. Insurance is being denied. Tourism is down. Some companies have laid off workers.
“Block after block of homes are wiped out and cars are melted down to their skeletal remains,” the Napa Valley congressman said of his travels in Santa Rosa over the weekend.
And yet none of the $44 billion that the White House requested of Congress on Friday for supplemental disaster aid includes funding to rebuild California after the fires — which killed 43 people and destroyed nearly 9,000 structures — a move that’s sparked an outcry from Thompson and his fellow lawmakers.
“I think it’s very disappointing. Folks throughout California were ravaged by this fire, and we should ensure they get the help and support they need,” Thompson said Sunday.
He and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) said in a joint statement that it was “mind-boggling” the Trump administration did not include any funds for California in its latest request, most of which will go to hurricane relief in Texas and Florida.
California lawmakers had asked the White House for $7.4 billion to help residents recover from the wildfires that began in early October, calling it one of the deadliest and most destructive fire events in the state’s history. None of that money was included in the Trump administration’s package.
“It’s appalling the White House is choosing to ignore the victims of California’s wildfires. The latest disaster supplemental request is a completely inadequate response to all of the recent natural disasters, but it’s particularly egregious that no money was included to help Californians rebuild,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris said in a shared statement.
Lawmakers in other states also criticized the supplemental disaster funding request, saying it was not enough to address the devastation left from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the $44-billion figure, saying it was not a low amount.
“And my guess is if you ask any average citizen across this country, they wouldn’t feel like it’s low either,” she said.
The White House’s proposal addresses California’s wildfires by calling for tax relief for those affected.
The funds requested by California lawmakers would go toward direct assistance to victims, rebuilding public infrastructure, restoring lost homes and wineries, and cleaning up debris and waste.
The money would also replenish Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief funds to allow victims to apply for temporary housing, rebuild homes and small businesses, receive crop insurance, and access basic needs including medical care.
Last month, Congress approved a $36.5-billion disaster aid package, which included $576.5 million for wildfire suppression in California and the West.
Thompson said the federal response to the fire emergency was “great” — with help also pouring in from places as far away as Australia, which sent firefighters — but the rebuilding phase still needs more attention.
He and his colleagues will continue to ask for supplemental federal disaster aid funds.