Huffman Joins Lofgren, Padilla in Introducing Bills to Reform Federal Wildfire Disaster Response

Legislation would strengthen FEMA’s disaster preparedness and response efforts, and make federal disaster response more equitable for wildfire impacted communities

November 04, 2021

Washington, D.C. – Following another season of record-breaking wildfires in the West, U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) joined Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) and Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) in introducing two bills to redesign the federal government’s response to wildfires and provide additional resources to ensure equity for communities experiencing natural disasters.

“Climate change is accelerating, and the world is needing to adapt to a “new normal” of increased extreme weather threats like the devastating wildfires my district has been battling year over year,” said Rep. Huffman. “As we work to combat the climate crisis directly, these bills take a two-pronged approach to help FEMA evolve their practices to meet these new challenges. The FIRE Act would allow FEMA to response faster to the risks of catastrophic wildfires, better prioritize the needs of survivors, and improve partnerships with tribal governments, while the Disaster Equity and Fairness Act recognizes that underserved communities victimized by wildfires and climate change may need help from FEMA as they work to navigate the bureaucratic process to rebuild. The climate crisis isn’t waiting, and it’s critical we update policies to protect our communities from its worst impacts.”

“The climate crisis is now a daily reality for communities across California. Extreme weather events and natural disasters, especially wildfires, are the new normal and they threaten our homes, businesses, and livelihoods year in and year out,” said Senator Padilla. “I’ve seen the very real human and economic costs of these disasters throughout our state, and it is clear that we need to change our approach. That’s why I’m proud to work with local stakeholders and community leaders on this legislation to reshape the federal government’s response to natural disasters and bring relief to communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.”

“This year’s ongoing fire season is devastating communities in California and across the West. Congress must ensure all federal agencies and statutes are set up in ways that best support our communities as they prepare for and respond to deadly fires,” said Rep. Lofgren, Chair of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation. “Wildfire assistance should not be treated as less important than hurricanes, tornadoes or floods, and these proposals would improve and bring parity to FEMA’s efforts. I’m proud to join Senator Padilla in making sure FEMA operations and policies reflect the unique nature of wildfires.”

The FIRE Act would make several changes to the Stafford Act that governs FEMA—which was written when FEMA primarily focused on hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods—to ensure that FEMA’s disaster preparedness and response efforts fully address the unique nature of wildfires and their impacts on communities. This includes directing FEMA to pre-deploy assets during times of highest risk, red flag warnings, improving relocation assistance for public infrastructure affected by fires, ensuring equity of assistance for tribal communities and tribal governments, and examining ways to speed up the FEMA assistance process.

The Disaster Equity and Fairness Act would ensure that FEMA’s disaster preparedness and response efforts fully address the unique needs of underserved communities, emergency food and water needs following a disaster, and the impact of consecutive disasters on communities.

In the Senate, the FIRE Act and the Disaster Equity and Fairness Act are co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The bills were introduced in the House by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and in addition to Rep. Huffman are co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Thompson and Jimmy Panetta (all D-Calif.).

What Supporters are Saying

“The FIRE Act takes important steps to provide for equity in emergency preparedness and response, and allows for greater protection against climate change-driven disasters,” said Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci. “It will also help modernize emergency management and assist communities, responders, and the private and nonprofit sectors to prepare for, and respond to, the scale and frequency of disasters that the nation faces today.”

“World Central Kitchen has seen first-hand not only the devastating impact of the increasing frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters — from fires to floods to hurricanes — but also how our country’s inability to meet critical needs in the aftermath makes that impact even worse,” said José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen. “Too often, Americans are left hungry, thirsty, and alone — wondering when help will arrive. We must empower states, local governments, and non-profits with the tools they need even before disaster strikes. We should activate local resources like restaurants, and ensure FEMA reimbursement concerns don’t prevent food and water from reaching people in need. It’s time to acknowledge that we are in a new normal, and this new normal requires us to evolve the way we operate to act with the urgency of now — and make sure no American is left behind.”

“The California State Association of Counties (CSAC) applauds Senator Padilla for his diligent efforts to improve the Stafford Act,” said CSAC President and Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore. “The commonsense reforms proposed in the FIRE Act and the Disaster Equity and Fairness Act will empower communities to become more resilient. Moreover, local officials and emergency managers can focus on planning and recovery and getting residents the assistance they need. These investments will pay for themselves in the years to come. Most importantly, these reforms will help save lives.”

“I am extremely supportive of the FIRE Act moving forward,” said Chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Lynda Hopkins. “Updating rules so that FEMA can more actively protect Californians against the impacts of catastrophic wildfires, through earlier deployment before a wildfire begins and deeper, timely engagement in the recovery process, will help Sonoma County be resilient. I’m also grateful to see that equitable access is specifically prioritized, ensuring that FEMA will increase technical assistance to those communities with the greatest needs during a disaster.”

A one-pager of the FIRE Act can be found here, and the full text of the bill can be found here.

A one-pager of the Disaster Equity and Fairness Act can be found here, and the full text of the bill can be found here.