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Heinrich Cosponsors Legislation to Protect Pay for Wildland Firefighters

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) cosponsored the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act, legislation permanently increasing wildland firefighter pay before the supplemental pay raises in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law expire on September 30th. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee advanced the bill in July with bipartisan support and awaits consideration by the full Senate.
“Wildland firefighters have battled historic fires in New Mexico and are on the front lines of the climate crisis across the West. This is strenuous and heroic work, and it deserves pay and benefits to match. I was pleased to see President Biden answer my calls last summer to implement a pay raise for our wildland firefighter workforce. But those expanded benefits were only temporary. Congress needs to act now to permanently raise wildland firefighter pay, and that’s what this legislation does,” said Heinrich. “With the growing risk of catastrophic wildfire, it’s critical that we invest in increased wildland firefighter capacity, housing, mental health, and well-being. I won’t stop fighting to provide our wildland firefighters with the pay and benefits they have long deserved.”  
The Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act supports federal wildland firefighters by creating a special pay rate to permanently raise their pay after the funding that Heinrich helped secure in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law runs out. It also introduces incident response premium pay to account for the 24/7 nature of the work that firefighters do while they are deployed at qualifying incidents. The legislation helps ensure the federal government can recruit and retain a sufficient wildland firefighting workforce, and that these brave men and women feel supported as they protect and keep New Mexicans safe from life-threatening wildfires.  
On June 11, 2022, Senator Heinrich led a letter to the Biden Administration urging them to swiftly implement the supplemental pay increase that was included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Less than two weeks later, the Biden Administration announced the rollout of that supplemental pay increase that kept mass resignations within the workforce at bay. However, we are now facing a mass exodus of wildland firefighters from federal agencies if that pay increase is not made permanent.  
In June of this year, Heinrich joined a letter led by Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee urging them to consider legislation that would authorize a long-term solution to increase wildland firefighter recruitment and retention.  
In July, Heinrich voted to advance the FY24 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. Included in the bill’s accompanying report was a commitment by the Committee to provide the resources required to implement the pay increase once the authorizing legislation becomes law. There are multiple avenues to ensure that the funding to enact these changes is available to U.S. Forest Services (USFS) and DOI. The Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), has stated that he is committed to making sure that there is no lapse in increased pay for wildland firefighters and would look forward to considering a near-term supplemental funding package to do so.  
In August, Heinrich welcomed President Joe Biden’s FY24 supplemental funding request that includes $60 million to continue current wildland firefighter pay levels before short-term pay increases are set to expire on September 30th.