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Heinrich Requests Wildfire Disaster Recovery Assistance From USDA Secretary During Key Hearing

WASHINGTON – Today, during a key Appropriations hearing, U.S. Senator Martin (D-N.M.) requested the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to reduce cost-share requirements for disaster recovery programs and to send additional personnel and resources to New Mexico to help communities affected by wildfires access federal assistance.

WATCH: Heinrich Secures Wildfire Disaster Recovery Assistance Commitments From USDA Secretary During Key Hearing [HD DOWNLOAD LINK HERE] 

Today’s hearing in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies was a review of the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the USDA. Secretary Vilsack was the witness. 

Recently, President Joe Biden announced a major disaster declaration for New Mexico. Senator Heinrich, along with the entire New Mexico Congressional Delegation, called for the administration to waive the federal cost-share for FEMA assistance. 

During the hearing, Senator Heinrich asked Secretary Vilsack if he would also work with him on reducing cost-share requirements for limited-resource communities seeking USDA disaster program assistance. Secretary Vilsack responded that he and the department would be “happy to work with [Senator Heinrich]” on what he referred to as an “appropriate request.

Secretary Vilsack also committed to strengthening resources and increasing staffing at Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state offices, which help local communities access the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program. Senator Heinrich noted the importance of EWP conducting assessments and implementation of recovery projects ahead of the monsoon season. He flagged that the Village of Ruidoso, which was subject to a wildfire that caused several fatalities and destroyed over 200 homes, has already requested EWP assistance, and many other communities in northern New Mexico will do so soon.

Senator Heinrich also expressed that other disaster programs within the Farm Service Agency (FSA) will be crucial to help farmers and ranchers in New Mexico recover from wildfire losses. Senator Heinrich asked Secretary Vilsack to “look closely at FSA and really meet people in these communities [so that they] understand what they need to do to access [FSA programs].” Secretary Vilsack committed to putting surge teams in place at New Mexico FSA offices, if staffing is not adequate, to help communities access FSA programs, such as the Livestock Indemnity Program, and be on the ground for community engagement.

Full witness testimony and an archived video of today’s hearing can be found here.