Rural Wildfire Victims Would Get Federal Assistance Faster Under Bill Introduced Today by Cantwell, Risch

MALDEN Act -- named for devastating 2020 fire in Eastern WA -- would help FEMA better coordinate with local wildfire recovery teams

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Senator James Risch (R-ID) introduced the Making Aid for Local Disasters Equal Now (MALDEN) Act, which would improve coordination between local, state, Tribal, and federal agencies to deliver resources faster in the aftermath of disastrous wildfires.

“After the 2020 fire that destroyed the town of Malden -- and even after last year's Gray and Oregon Road fires in Spokane County -- federal assistance has been too slow to arrive. The MALDEN Act will help deliver disaster recovery aid to rural communities more quickly. The bill requires FEMA to get involved in rural wildfire response sooner, work with local, state, and Tribal emergency officials on a coordinated response, and to make case workers available even if victims are denied federal assistance,” said Sen. Cantwell.

“Idahoans know too well the near-constant danger wildfire imposes on communities due to federally mismanaged forests in the West,” said Sen. Risch, a trained forester. “When our rural communities need help with wildfires, they need it fast. Thus far, federal agencies have failed them. The MALDEN Act will require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to urgently respond to areas in need while coordinating with state, tribal, and local leaders, who know their communities’ needs best. We must pass the MALDEN Act before the 2024 wildfire season starts.”

“Rural communities in Eastern Washington are too often at a disadvantage when it comes to wildfire recovery, especially when it takes weeks – or sometimes even months – to reach a decision on a disaster declaration,” said Rep. Rodgers. “The MALDEN Act helps bridge that gap by improving coordination between federal and local agencies to get the most effective possible resources on the ground so people can begin putting their lives back together more quickly. While it won’t fix everything, this bill takes what we learned from the devastating Babb, Gray, and Oregon Road Fires and turns it into action we can count on in the future.”

The MALDEN Act is named for the town of Malden, WA, which was destroyed by the 2020 Babb Road Fire. The bill is a companion to a bill of the same name in the House introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, WA-05) in November. Full text of the bill is available HERE.

The MALDEN Act would amend the Stafford Act, which constitutes the statutory authority for most Federal disaster response activities, to:

  • Ensure rural communities receive recovery assistance by requiring the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to work in coordination with state or Tribal leadership to provide guidance to local emergency managers on developing a recovery team. They must also assist in identifying short and long-term recovery resources, including resources to prevent secondary natural disasters like flooding, mudslides, and rockslides.
  • Instruct FEMA to work with the state or Tribal emergency management agency to make case workers available for rural communities in the event that a request for Individual Assistance is made and denied.

As wildfires become more frequent and intense in the West, Sen. Cantwell is working to ensure that communities have access to the resources necessary to prevent, prepare, fight, and recover from major fires. She secured billions of dollars to support wildfire response and recovery in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including $3.4 billion for wildfire risk reduction, $1.14 billion for Hazardous Fuels Reduction programs, and $500 million for Burned Area Rehabilitation Programs. In addition, she helped secure an additional $1.8 billion for the U.S. Forest Service Hazardous Fuels Reduction Program as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. At an April Senate hearing, she called on U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore to hire more firefighters ahead of the 2023 wildfire season.

In November 2022, Sen. Cantwell helped secure emergency funding to stabilize fire-scarred land around Highway 2 near Sultan caused by the Bolt Creek Fire. In May 2022, she introduced the Fire Ready Nation Act, which would improve the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s wildfire response and forecasting.

Last August, Sen. Cantwell visited Medical Lake to view the destruction caused by the Gray and Oregon Road fires. Photos and videos of that visit can be viewed HERE. Last week, Sen. Cantwell and Rep. McMorris Rodgers sent a letter to the Biden administration requesting an immediate update on the status of Governor Jay Inslee’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration following the Gray and Oregon Road fires.

Senator Risch, as one of the only trained foresters in Congress, has long sought to create meaningful, effective policies to build healthier, more resilient forests; better fight fires; and aid the communities hurt by these disasters. He has introduced numerous pieces of legislation in wildfire prevention, including:

Senator Risch has also encouraged the federal government use prescribed fires to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and he has strongly advised the U.S. Forest Services to analyze and release standing sawtimber levels in priority firesheds. This will motivate and focus collaborative work between federal land management agencies and forest product companies, who work together to remove hazardous fuels.