Wildfire Update: Moving into Recovery

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Rep. Pam Marsh

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The wildfires that coursed through the Oregon in September left disaster in their wake. Now that the smoke has settled, the damage can be assessed. Fires torched one million acres, destroyed 3,124 homes (including 1,069 single families houses, 197 multi-family, and 1,858 manufactured homes), and burned up 1,403 other structures. Nine individuals were killed, and three are still missing. Twenty counties across the state are part of the disaster declaration. 

There’s no getting away from the fact that this was an awful, catastrophic event. But in the shadow of so much loss, the shape of recovery is beginning to take form.

Here is an update on the central issues ahead.


Representative Pam Marsh

State Representative
Oregon House District 5 - Southern Jackson County

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Officials from the State's Office of Emergency Management, Department of Environmental Quality, and Department of Transportation have been working with county representatives to craft a comprehensive plan for clean up.

As currently designed, clean up will be conducted in two phases:

  1. Household hazardous waste (items like bleach, batteries, propane tanks, paint, pesticides, fertilizer, ammunition, aerosols, or other toxic products) clean up will be managed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and conducted by qualified contractors. FEMA will pick up 75% of the estimated $15.5 million price tag, and the state has committed to the other 25%.

    Jackson County is finalizing a Right of Entry form that will need to be signed by homeowners to allow work to take place. Those forms should soon be available on the county’s website: www.jacksoncounty.org/ROE. In preparation for filling out the form property owners should identify their property parcel number from their county tax assessor’s office and collect insurance information.

    Once a property owner completes an ROE form with the county, crews will evaluate the property for any overhead hazards (impacted trees) or other physical hazards and conduct air monitoring and visual observations to identify locations of household hazardous waste.

    Clean up will begin in Jackson County the week of October 19, and is expected to finish in mid to late December.

  2. Ash and other debris. The second phase of clean up will address ash and other debris – essentially everything on the ground after the household hazardous waste has been removed. This is a complicated and expensive process. Ash itself is hazardous, and the material on the ground must be processed and property disposed. Current plans call for the state to manage this process and local governments to coordinate action implementation.

    Estimated cost for this phase is $622 million. Not surprisingly, the State of Oregon is requesting FEMA to pick up more than the minimum 75% of project costs. Property owners may be asked to contribute that portion of their insurance benefits dedicated to clean up benefits, but property owners would not be required to pay out of pocket for any portion of the costs. 

The good news about clean up is that we are moving to a comprehensive approach that will protect property owners from onerous financial obligations. The bad news is the timeline. As described above, Phase 1 should be completed by the end of the year.  Phase 2 can begin immediately after that, but is expected to take 6 to 18 months.  Do the math, and it is clear that few if any properties will be ready for new construction until the middle of 2021.

Many of us are anxious to see new construction on the ground. We want residents to be back in their homes and businesses to be able to open their doors. But doing this right is going to take time, as hard as that is to contemplate.

FEMA Update

As of today, FEMA has received and is processing 6,835 applications and has already approved $14.5 million in benefits.  About $13.5 million has been disbursed to Oregonians.  Once your claim is approved, FEMA is quick to get money out the door and into your hands. 

If you have not yet filed an application – please do. Anyone impacted by the wildfires should sign up for assistance through FEMA as soon as possible: https://www.disasterassistance.gov/; 1-800-621-3362; or 1-800-462-7585 TTY

Note that if you are insured you must file a claim with your insurance company before applying to FEMA.   

If you prefer to speak to someone in person, FEMA representatives are now staffing an Multi-Agency Resource Center at Central High School in Medford located at 815 S. Oakdale Avenue. You can visit the center daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to for in-person help. Masks are required and visitors will receive “no touch” temperature screenings. 

FEMA provides a maximum household benefit of $35,500 for those who are uninsured or underinsured and lost property. This includes repairs, temporary housing, and replacement of household appliances and goods.

There is also a maximum $35,500 benefit for “other needs assistance,” which includes medical and dental expenses, the repair, cleaning or replacement of clothing, household items, and necessary special materials like computers, schoolbooks or supplies. It can go to clean-up items, fuel for primary heat sources, and repairing or replacing vehicles that were damaged in the disaster, and to cover funeral and burial costs.

FEMA Appeals

Unfortunately, we are already hearing reports from residents who were denied for FEMA benefits.  This fact sheet from FEMA can help you understand the reasons you may have been turned away:  https://www.fema.gov/fact-sheet/4562/reasons-why-fema-may-have-found-you-ineligible

If you are denied – please do not give up!  Many applicants file two or more times before receiving benefits. 

This website at National Disaster Legal Aid offers step-by-step help with writing an appeal letter: https://www.disasterlegalaid.org/femaappeals/

For assistance in Spanish, you can visit https://lawhelpinteractive.org/Interview/GenerateInterview/6100/engine

You can also go to OregonLawHelp.org for assistance or call the Center for Nonprofit Legal Services, which is assisting low-income residents in Jackson County, at 541-779-7291 or 541-779-7000 (for seniors).

Citizenship and Immigration Status Requirements for FEMA Disaster Assistance

To be eligible for FEMA's Individuals and Households Program (IHP) assistance, disaster survivors must be U.S. citizens, non­citizen nationals or qualified aliens.

Qualified aliens are defined as:

  • Legal permanent residents (“Green Card” holders);
  • Asylees, refugees, or alien whose deportation is being withheld;
  • Certain aliens paroled into the U.S. for at least one year;
  • Certain aliens granted conditional entry (per law in effect prior to April 1, 1980);
  • Certain Cuban/Haitian entrants;
  • Certain battered aliens or their spouses or children;
  • Certain victims of abuse and extreme cruelty; and
  • Certain victims of a severe form of human trafficking, including persons with “T” and “U” visas.

If an applicant does not meet the required citizenship or immigration status criteria, the household still may apply for and be considered for certain forms of IHP assistance if at least one household member (including minor children) is a citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien at registration intake, as long as they live in the same household. An IHP application based on a minor child’s eligibility must list the parent or guardian as the co-applicant and be supported by the child’s birth certificate and a copy of the child’s social security card or documentation from the Social Security Administration or other federal entity containing the full or last four digits of the child’s social security number. The eligible minor child must be under age 18 as of the first day of the incident period or disaster declaration day, whichever comes first.

Assistance for survivors who meet the eligibility criteria may include, but are not limited to, assistance for temporary housing, home repair, personal property, disaster unemployment assistance and low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Other Individual Assistance programs such as Crisis Counseling Assistance, Disaster Legal Services, Disaster Case Management and Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) are available to individuals and families regardless of citizenship status. Short-term, non-cash assistance—such as search and rescue, medical care, congregate shelter, food, water and hazard clearance—is available. Additionally, voluntary agencies provide help regardless of citizenship/immigration status.

Survivors who do not qualify for IHP may still call the FEMA Helpline for referrals to voluntary agencies. All FEMA disaster assistance will be provided without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, religion, nationality, age, disability, limited English proficiency and economic status. If a survivor believes their civil rights are being violated, they may call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY). Press 2 for Spanish.

Applicants should consult an immigration expert concerning whether or not their immigration status falls within the Qualified Alien category.


Requisitos de ciudadanía y estatus migratorio para recibir asistencia por desastre de FEMA

Para ser elegible a recibir asistencia del programa de Individuos y Familias (IHP, por sus siglas en inglés) de FEMA, los sobrevivientes del desastre deben ser ciudadanos estadounidenses, nacional no ciudadano o un extranjero cualificado.

Un extranjero cualificado se define de la siguiente manera:

  • Persona con residencia legal permanente (titular de un "Green Card");
  • Personas con estatus de refugiado, bajo asilo o con suspensión de deportación;
  • Algunos extranjeros con permiso condicional de entrada en EE. UU. de por lo menos un año;
  • Algunos extranjeros a quienes fueron conferidos entrada condicional (por ley vigente antes del 1 de abril de 1980);
  • Algunos entrantes cubanos o haitiano;
  • Algunos extranjeros víctimas de agresión, su cónyuge o hijos;
  • Algunos extranjeros víctimas de maltrato o crueldad extrema; y
  • Algunos extranjeros víctimas de trata humana, que incluye las personas con visas “T” y “U”.

Si un solicitante no cumple con los criterios requeridos de ciudadanía o estatus migratorio, la familia todavía puede solicitar y ser considerado para algunas alternativas de asistencia de IHP si al menos un miembro del hogar (incluidos los niños menores de edad) es ciudadano, nacional no ciudadano o extranjero calificado al momento en que llena la solicitud, siempre y cuando vivan en el mismo hogar. Una solicitud de IHP basada en la elegibilidad de un niño menor de edad debe designar al padre o tutor como el co-solicitante y ser evidenciado mediante el certificado de nacimiento del niño y una copia de la tarjeta de seguridad social del niño o documentación de la Administración del Seguro Social, u otra entidad federal que contenga los últimos cuatro dígitos o el número completo de seguro social del menor de edad. El menor de edad elegible deberá ser menor de 18 años de edad al primer día del periodo del incidente o la fecha en que se declara el desastre, lo que ocurra primero.

La asistencia para sobrevivientes que cumplen con los criterios de elegibilidad incluye, pero no se limita a, asistencia para vivienda provisional, reparación de viviendas, propiedad personal, asistencia de desempleo por desastre y préstamos por desastre a bajo interés de la Agencia Federal para el Desarrollo de la Pequeña Empresa de los Estados Unidos.

Otros programas de Asistencia Individual como Asistencia de Consejería de Crisis, Servicios Legales por Desastre, Manejo de Casos por Desastres, Programa de Asistencia Nutricional Suplementaria por Desastres (D-SNAP, por sus siglas en inglés) y asistencia a corto plazo no monetaria, como búsqueda y rescate, atención médica, refugio colectivo, alimentos, agua y eliminación de peligros, están disponibles. Además, las agencias voluntarias proporcionan ayuda independientemente de su ciudadanía o estatus migratorio.

Los sobrevivientes que no califican para IHP aún pueden llamar a la Línea de Ayuda de FEMA para solicitar referidos a agencias voluntarias. Toda la asistencia de recuperación por desastre se proporciona sin distinción de raza, color, sexo (incluida la orientación sexual), religión, nacionalidad, edad, discapacidad, dominio del inglés, situación económica o represalia. Si un sobreviviente entiende que se está incumpliendo con sus derechos civiles, puede llamar a la Línea de Ayuda de FEMA al 800-621-3362 o al 800-462-7585 (TTY/TDD). Oprima 2 para asistencia en español.

Los solicitantes deben consultar con un experto en asuntos de inmigración para conocer si su estatus migratorio es considerado como extranjero cualificado.


Temporary Housing

We know that thousands of displaced residents are living with friends, in hotels, at the EXPO, in cars, or in other temporary quarters.  We’ve lost 2,500 homes in a community that already had a significant housing deficit and a 1% vacancy rate. We need help, and soon.

Accordingly, the State Office of Emergency Management has submitted a request to FEMA to implement a Direct Housing Assistance Program for six counties, including Jackson. If approved, this should open the door to placement of FEMA housing units, which could include manufactured homes, trailers, or recreational vehicles, on temporary sites in Talent, Phoenix and adjacent communities. 

But even if approved, we may see a timing lag between FEMA’s sign-off and installation of those units. With winter coming, we will need to make sure that everyone in our community is housed as cold weather sets in. The governor and legislature will be advocating as loudly as possible for immediate FEMA response to ensure that we have housing on the ground as soon as possible. 

FEMA will look at the applications for assistance the agency has received from our region to measure our need and decide whether or not the state will get access to certain kinds of support. That’s another critical reason for all impacted residents to sign up with FEMA. 

Wildfire Housing Relief Fund

Residents who are not eligible for FEMA and do not have insurance may qualify for grants from the state’s Wildfire Housing Relief Fund. Individuals who are undocumented can apply for this funding.  To add your name to the waitlist, please visit:  https://www.oregon.gov/ohcs/housing-assistance/Pages/program-wildfire-damage-housing-relief.aspx

Wildfire Economic Recovery Council

This week, Governor Kate Brown announced establishment of a Wildfire Economic Recovery Council to evaluate the economic and community needs of Oregonians statewide as a result of the 2020 wildfire season. The council, co-chaired by Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle and State Treasurer Tobias Read, will work to help counties implement economic recovery solutions, bringing together federal, state, and local resources to support communities impacted by wildfires.” The council will focus on solutions that account for the disproportionate impact the 2020 wildfires have had on communities of color, rural, and low-income Oregonians. The council will convene next week, and will complete its initial work by December 31. The council’s scope of work will include:

  • Assessing the community and economic impacts of the fire and assistance needs; 
  • Coordinating community needs and streamlining assistance; 
  • Elevating immediate response needs to the Governor’s Disaster Cabinet; 
  • Identifying possible budget and legislative needs related to wildfire economic recovery; 
  • Working with the Governor’s Regional Solutions staff to coordinate state agencies to help address fire impacts and promote economic stability, public safety and natural resource recovery, including working with local and federal partners; and 
  • Apprising the Governor of any further needs identified during the council’s work.

Senator Jeff Golden and I will both serve on the council, along with other legislators, agency directors, and key stakeholders. 

Contact Rep. Pam Marsh

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1405
District Phone: 541-282-4516
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, H-375, Salem, Oregon 97301
Email: Rep.PamMarsh@oregonlegislature.gov
Website and e-Subscribe: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/marsh