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California officials approve $131 million for emergency and disaster relief

California officials approve $131 million for emergency and disaster relief
The Camp fire leveled the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park retirement community in Paradise, Calif. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a pair of bills into law Wednesday to immediately provide $131.3 million in funding to expand access to clean drinking water, improve emergency preparedness and support wildfire-ravaged communities.

The bills were introduced in the Legislature in early December and approved unanimously this week.

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A legislative analysis says the legislation will appropriate $50 million for a statewide emergency preparedness campaign and local grants. Another $31.3 million will backfill property tax losses from wildfire damage in Butte, Lake, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Shasta and Siskiyou counties.

Approximately $20 million will go toward emergency drinking-water projects and to increase compliance with water quality standards. The bills give the state $15 million for legal services and audits and $10 million to begin upgrading the 911 system.

“These budget bills reflect immediate needs for the state — relief for areas affected by wildfires, help for communities with urgent drinking-water needs, and assistance for asylum seekers,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said. “Unanimous, bipartisan votes of the Assembly and Senate, and now the governor’s signature, show the true urgency of these measures.”

The laws amend the 2018-19 state budget to offer more disaster and emergency aid following the state’s deadliest wildfire season on record and as thousands of Californians continue to lack access to safe drinking water.

The proposals are the first signed into law by Newsom since he was sworn in to office in January. Newsom, who has repeatedly pledged to improve access to drinking water in the Central Valley and other communities, traveled to an elementary school in the Fresno County town of Parlier to sign the bills in a ceremony Wednesday afternoon.

With Newsom’s signature on the bills, he and the Legislature are also freeing up $5 million for nonprofits providing shelter to asylum-seeking migrant families at the California border with Mexico. At the urging of San Diego lawmakers, Newsom visited the region in November and again last month.

“Although the recent influx of migrants seeking asylum is from countries in Central America where gangs are terrorizing communities, with climate change, civil war, oppression and economic hardship, tomorrow’s refugees can come from anywhere,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said. “California must be ready to provide services and support if the federal government does not uphold its responsibility.”

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