Political Notebook

McCarthy says he does not support withholding federal funds for fire relief victims

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield speaks as Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., listen after meeting with President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders on border security in the Situation Room, Wednesday Jan. 9, 2019, at the White House in Washington, as the government shutdown continues.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield speaks as Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., listen after meeting with President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders on border security in the Situation Room, Wednesday Jan. 9, 2019, at the White House in Washington, as the government shutdown continues. Associated Press

Rep. Kevin McCarthy has said he does not support withholding federal funds from fire victims in California, adding he personally advised President Donald Trump to keep the money flowing to the state.

On Wednesday, a tweet from Trump made it seem like federal funds that would go to victims of recent fires were in jeopardy.

“Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen,” Trump said in the tweet. “Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”

In an interview with The Bakersfield Californian, McCarthy said the tweet reflected a frustration the president and he shared about state laws that he said make it difficult to clean up underbrush in forests.

During a wildfire, dry brush in forests can catch fire and spread the blaze faster, potentially thwarting attempts to put it out.

Although McCarthy may be frustrated with state laws, he said he still believes federal funds should go to fire victims.

“I do not support withholding money for people that have had fires and damage,” he said. “California is getting the money.”

He said he urged the president to sign a disaster declaration last fall for fire victims in California that suffered through the deadliest wildfire season on record, and he still believes it is necessary.

“I take this very personal. I’ve seen the devastation fires cause,” McCarthy said. “That’s why when this happened in Paradise… I called the president at night, talking to him about what had happened.”

The declaration makes federal funds available to fire victims for temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, according to a FEMA news release sent out in November.

Many families rely on federal aid to get back on their feet following a disaster, and the president’s tweet worried some that aid would no longer be available.

Throughout the state, federal funds remain crucial to people’s ability to rebuild their lives, officials say.

“Not just the funding, but the resources that the federal government brings are all very critical to be able to have a successful recovery,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

When it comes to the forest management issue, McCarthy said he will work to introduce a bill that will increase funding for states to clean up their forests.

“We want people safe from fires,” he said. “We need to do everything in our power to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future to better prepare ourselves.”

Sam Morgen: smorgen@bakersfield.com, 661-395-7415

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