WASHINGTON DC – U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) joined Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and other Western U.S. Senators in pushing Senate leaders to deliver critical housing assistance to Americans struggling to find reliable shelter in the wake of catastrophic wildfire damage in Washington state and across the Western U.S. This year alone, fires in the West have burned over 5.8 million acres, including more than 800,000 in Washington state; claimed over 30 lives; and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
“The current wildfires will further exacerbate an already critical affordable housing shortage impacting western states. Oregon, California, and Washington are short over 1.2 million affordable rental housing units, and have an average of 75% of extremely low income renter households dealing with severe cost burden,” the senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy.
“State resources and funding were already seriously strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, and are now completely depleted by weeks of fighting some of the most dangerous and widespread fires on record. With nowhere else to turn, western states are looking to the Senate to deliver critical housing relief,” the lawmakers continued.
The senators’ request includes $15 billion for Community Development Block Grants, $3 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund, $2 billion in Emergency Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Funding, and $1 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development and Rural Housing Service. The letter also included specific program guidance to ensure the funds would put much-needed housing assistance funding in the hands of people significantly impacted by fire; help incentivize and prioritize affordable housing rebuilding; ramp up lending capacity in fire impacted states; and help repair and rebuild housing, community facilities, and infrastructure projects.
Senators Cantwell and Murray have forcefully pushed for the State of Washington and communities across the West to receive assistance responding to and recovering from this year’s devastating fire season. Just last week, the senators sent a letter to House and Senate leadership requesting that funds for wildfire risk mitigation and recovery efforts be included in the next COVID-19 relief package, and they were joined by the entire Washington state congressional delegation in a third letter since September urging President Trump and FEMA Administrator Gaynor to support Governor Inslee’s request for a statewide federal emergency disaster declaration in response to this year’s wildfires. Last month, Cantwell and Murray also asked the National Guard for a report on its readiness to help states prepare for and fight wildfires. And in September, Cantwell and Murray urged President Trump to provide additional federal assistance to states, Tribes, and communities grappling with wildfires and their aftermath. The senators have been congressional leaders on wildfire management for years, and in September Senator Cantwell introduced legislation to support pre-fire season controlled burns.
The full text of the letter is available HERE.