Fed to send previously withheld disaster funds after Newsom, Trump call

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SAN DIEGO — After initially denying California’s request for wildfire relief funds, the federal government will grant the money to the Golden State after all, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday afternoon.

The funds will support residents impacted by the Valley Fire in eastern San Diego County, as well as communities in Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mendocino, San Bernardino and Siskiyou counties.

“Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request. Grateful for his quick response,” Newsom said in a statement.

The disaster relief funding was requested amid a particularly vicious wildfire season, with blazes scorching an estimated 4.1 million acres of land in California this year, damaging or destroying 9,200 structures and killing 31 people, Cal Fire data shows.

In San Diego, the Valley Fire burned for much of September, covering more than 16,000 acres, destroying more than 60 buildings — including 30 homes — and damaging 11 other structures.

“The severity and magnitude of these fires continue to cause significant impacts to the State and to the affected local jurisdictions, such that recovery efforts remain beyond the State’s capability,” Newsom wrote in a Sept. 28 letter to President Donald Trump regarding the state’s recovery and active firefights.

But late Thursday, California announced that its initial application for federal support had been denied. Newsom and other officials quickly said they planned to appeal the decision.

The state’s appeal was apparently accepted, as Newsom announced the funding was coming after all on Friday afternoon.

“A Presidential Major Disaster Declaration helps people in the impacted counties through eligibility for support including crisis counseling, housing and unemployment assistance and legal services,” a statement from the governor’s office explained.

“It also provides federal assistance to help state, tribal and local governments fund emergency response, recovery and protective measures.”

Newsom and Trump have appeared to forge an uneasy working relationship during California’s bouts with wildfires and the coronavirus pandemic, frequently collaborating successfully on the relief efforts while at other times sparring over issues such as climate change and civil unrest during the summer’s racial justice protests.

In the past, Trump has suggested that he would withhold federal disaster relief from the state, criticized the governor’s focus on climate change as a key contributing factor the fires and charged that they are a result of poor forest management.

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