As many coastal communities continue to deal with the aftermath of the Woolsey fire, local members of Congress are pushing back against President Trump’s Twitter threat to withhold Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for victims.
“Regardless of who is to blame for forest fires, you cannot blame disaster victims,” U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) said during a Monday conference call with reporters about the recovery effort from the latest wildfires and the government shutdown.
Trump said the state’s mismanagement of its forests could justify withholding FEMA funds. But Lieu, on the call with Reps. Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), said state and local agencies own just 3 percent of the 33 million acres of forest throughout the state. Nearly 60 percent of it is owned and managed by the federal government.
Despite his threat on Twitter, Trump declared a state of emergency in California in November because of the wildfires, including authorization for FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security to lead disaster relief efforts with federal funding.
Brownley, whose district includes L.A. and Ventura counties, said she has constituents who are still “combing through the ashes, trying to rebuild their lives” after the December 2017 Thomas fire. Two of them, she said, are air traffic controllers who were furloughed because of the government shutdown.
“It’s absolutely heartless to threaten to withhold FEMA money for Americans who lost their houses simply in pursuit of a political agenda,” Brownley said.
Brownley, Lieu and Sherman said they expected the Democratic majority in the House to approve the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2019 during their Wednesday session. The bill would allocate $12.1 billion to various federal agencies for spending on recoveries from wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters throughout the country. The money would be used to rebuild infrastructure, provide loans to affected businesses and other recovery efforts. If the bill makes it through the Republican-led Senate, it’s unclear if the president would sign it into law.
It’s also unclear if Trump can or will follow through on his FEMA threat. On the FEMA website, one of many federal agency websites that isn’t being actively managed because of the shutdown, the agency says it’s working to address the needs of California’s wildfire survivors. FEMA mitigation specialists will be in Ventura County this weekend to assist wildfire victims with their property and home repairs. With rainy weather in the forecast, residents in the Woolsey fire burn area are also facing mandatory evacuation due to mudslides, and L.A. County is advising residents in other burn areas to prepare for possible evacuation.
FEMA did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Sherman added that the Woolsey fire broke out in shrubbery, and wasn’t the result of forest management.
“The president’s attack on disaster victims is heartless,” he said. “It is demonstrably false.”
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