State officials flood White House with natural disaster requests

Gov. Gavin Newsom, members of Congress and state assembly urge President Joe Biden to issue a major disaster declaration for the State of California

TULARE COUNTY – The dawn of 2023 was marked by extreme flooding and a series of storms sweeping through the Central Valley. As people begin to rebuild, state officials reach out to the White House for help.

On March 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom, along with members of Congress and the state assembly, are urging President Joe Biden to issue a major disaster declaration for the State of California. This request was in response to recent winter storms beginning in February. After a series of historic storms bombarded the county, and the state, officials are seeking aid at the federal level.

“With critical infrastructure and homes damaged or destroyed, severe, near record, or record snowfall throughout California and in areas not accustomed to snow, and major flooding along population centers, the impacts have been and continue to be profound. The State of California has relentlessly been bombarded by storm after storm with little-to-no time to recover,” Newsom stated in his letter to the President.

Newsom requested a major disaster declaration for California’s impacted counties to include:

  • All categories of public assistance for the following counties: Calaveras, Los Angeles, Monterey, and Tulare
  • All individual assistance programs for the following counties: Kern, Mariposa, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz, Tulare and Tuolumne
  • Any other appropriate Stafford Act disaster assistance programs
  • U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loans and funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Emergency Loan Program 
  • Hazard Mitigation statewide

U.S. Representatives Jim Costa (CA-21), Zoe Lofgren (CA-18), Ken Calvert (CA-41) and David Valadao (CA-22), along with U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) led a bipartisan, bicameral letter to President Biden. Congressman Kevin McCarthy also joined the cause, and said that though he is pleased Kern and Tulare Counties are included in this request, he is fighting for Fresno and Kings Counties to be added as well. In his letter to the White House, he urged the President to act quickly so that residents can get the help they need and restore life to normal.

“Recent storms have brought much-needed water to California, filling our reservoirs following years of catastrophic drought. However, these storms have also caused widespread destruction across the state and particularly our more rural communities,” McCarthy said in a statement.

An atmospheric river had swept through the state on March 15, causing the record snow pack to melt and an increase in rainfall. This caused widespread flooding, erosion, power outages and road closures across the state that have threatened the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Californians, according to the members’ letter. The storms damaged and continue to threaten federal and state highways and roads, critical infrastructure, homes and buildings. In Tulare County, many homes were impacted, with some residents in Woodlake experiencing knee-deep floodwaters in their homes following the first major storm on March 10. Many residents have questioned if they should even rebuild, in fear another flood will claim their home.

“The state has experienced a nearly uninterrupted series of storms since February 21, 2023, and the effects are ongoing. The intensity and damages of the storms have overwhelmed state resources and require federal assistance, coordination, and action to supplement state and local efforts,” members of the California delegation wrote in their letter.

In addition to extensive physical damages, these storms claimed the lives of multiple individuals, according to the letter.  At one point, more than 34 million Californians, nearly 90% of the state’s population, were under a flood watch and over 400,000 individuals had no electricity, threatening their livelihood and quality of life. On Jan. 9, the state experienced its highest level of evacuation orders, impacting nearly 100,000 individuals, with an additional 56,000 individuals under evacuation orders.

This is the second time the full California delegation has joined together in support of federal disaster assistance this year. On Jan. 13, California congressmen and senators urged President Biden to provide federal support for the state amidst the December and January storms.

“The magnitude of these weather systems has placed a severe strain on California’s resources and its ability to swiftly protect public health and safety,” the members wrote in the January letter. “Although the state has invested more than $738 million in flood protection programs in the last two years alone, it has been and continues to be increasingly difficult for the state and local governments to obtain the necessary resources to respond to the devastation caused by these storms.”

The continuation of storms have disrupted the local response efforts, as counties are still trying to recover from the December 2022 storms, according to the members’. They also stated that local resources that were strained due to response and recovery efforts have now been pushed to the limit responding to the current crisis.

“The severity of these storms requires additional coordination and a wider range of long- term federal recovery programs. Therefore, we urge you to expeditiously approve California’s request for a major disaster declaration and provide all categories of public assistance, individual assistance, and direct federal assistance for all counties set forth in the Governor’s request, along with hazard mitigation statewide.”

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