Ore. lawmakers seek FEMA 'transparency' after funding denial

WASHINGTON - Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both D-Ore., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., pushed the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday to be more transparent when it comes to the agency’s process for granting federal disaster declarations. The lawmakers’ push follows FEMA's denial of Oregon’s request for a federal disaster declaration that would bring much-needed relief to communities hit by severe winter weather in January. 

A federal disaster declaration would allow local governments and residents to seek federal aid to recover from dangerous winter weather that led to more than $17 million in damages. Wyden, Merkley and Walden also pushed FEMA to improve communication with regional offices about new policies that may affect states’ disaster declaration requests. 

“We write you with great concern over the recent denial of Oregon’s request for a major disaster declaration as a result of the succession of severe winter snow and weather events occurring from January 7 through 20,” they wrote to Acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton. “These storms had devastating effects on Oregon’s economy, and hit small rural communities especially hard.”

On March 9, Oregon Governor Kate Brown requested a federal disaster declaration for 10 Oregon counties, including Baker, Columbia, Curry, Deschutes Hood River, Josephine, Malheur, Multnomah, Union and Washington.  The lawmakers wrote in support of the state’s request on March 16. Brown announced the state would appeal the disaster declaration denial.

“Oregon has a long history of successfully working with FEMA after weather disasters,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to FEMA Acting Administrator Robert Fenton. “It is in this spirit that we encourage you to increase transparency and improve your communication and support to rural communities that have already struggled greatly to recover from this severe weather event.”

Read the full text of the letter here.

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