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Trump Threatens To Cut California's FEMA Funding For Wildfire Relief


President Trump is threatening to cut off FEMA money to California communities that were devastated by the recent deadly wildfires. Trump tweeted that he's ordered FEMA to send no more money unless California changes the way its forests are managed. Like most Western states, the bulk of California's forests are actually federally owned and managed, so it's not clear whether the government will follow through on the president's threat.

NPR's Kirk Siegler is in Chico, Calif. That's where FEMA is helping people recover from the Camp Fire that was the most deadly and destructive in California history. And, Kirk, I understand you're standing outside one of the agency's main Disaster Recovery Aid Centers. What are you seeing there?

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Well, there's a very big FEMA presence here, Audie. And it's a very busy recovery center, even two months now after the Camp Fire ignited. I'm told that on some days, upwards of 700 people are still coming in and out of here. FEMA has spent $54 million so far, just since November here. You know, and this is going to critical programs like temporary housing assistance, aid with rentals, hotel vouchers.

FEMA is looking more to the long term to get about 2,000 trailers or mobile home units placed. And some of them - some fire victims have already been put in them in a town about 40 minutes away from here. So this is very much still a very active recovery situation, and FEMA has a large presence on the ground.

CORNISH: So what are people in California saying about the president's threat?

SIEGLER: Well, people right here in Chico - you know, a lot of people don't have time to respond or speculate about what the president is claiming he may do. I mean, these are families in crisis, living day to day. I just watched a group of folks get in and out of a car. Their kids were still with them. It's clear that they don't have - can't go to school right now. They don't have any housing.

More officially, the new governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has strongly condemned the president's tweets, saying he's playing games with people's lives and that Paradise shouldn't be victims of partisan bickering.

You know, if this were to happen, simply put, the consequences would be dire. These are people with, you know, hardly any options. There are hundreds of people still sleeping in RVs out at the fairgrounds, assuming they were lucky enough to have an RV, or one that didn't burn.

And, you know, I think there would also be a pretty big political fallout if this were to happen. It's worth noting that two of the hardest-hit counties from California's wildfires voted solidly for Trump in 2016, including the county that I'm talking to you from.

CORNISH: You mentioned partisan bickering. We should note that this whole conversation is separate from the partial government shutdown, right? What do we know about how that's impacting things so far?

SIEGLER: Well, so far, FEMA is telling me that there's no effect on the money and its programs here on the ground because the agency is considered an essential operation. But, you know, there are some lesser-profile things that are starting to worry local officials, especially if this drags on.

I was at a Paradise Town Council meeting last night. And, in fact, we heard there that the town had been planning to apply for disaster recovery grants that they are really going to rely on in terms of planning and other things, but they can't right now because the Department of Commerce is mostly closed.

I think you might continue to see the state of California step in when it can, but there's a concern here if this stalemate drags on.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Kirk Siegler reporting from Chico, Calif. Thank you.

SIEGLER: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.

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