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State lawmakers: FEMA program to repay costs a burden

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico communities and nonprofit organizations are having trouble getting reimbursement for caring for migrants, according to members of the state’s congressional delegation.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency Acting Administrator Peter T. Gaynor requesting that communities and non-governmental organizations in New Mexico be adequately reimbursed by the Emergency Food and Shelter Program for costs incurred providing humanitarian relief to asylum seekers.

In June, the Democratic lawmakers secured $30 million in reimbursement funds for communities, nonprofit and church organizations in New Mexico and elsewhere that provided humanitarian relief to asylum seekers as part of a $4.6 billion border aid package passed by Congress.

“We are discouraged by FEMA’s roll out of the EFSP Southern Border Humanitarian Assistance program, and FEMA’s lack of communication and coordination with Congress and applicants in New Mexico when developing the guidance and assistance for the application process,” the delegation wrote. “Many New Mexican applicants have found the application process overly burdensome and the documentation requirements inflexible, with no accounting for the realities of providing emergency humanitarian aid.”

CEO Jim Gannon of the Catholic Charities of Central New Mexico said his organization has applied for about $120,000, but said the organization has had to amend its application. He said it has yet to receive reimbursement money.

“They keep changing the guidelines,” he said. “Like many government programs, they want proof of expenses in certain categories. Some of the expenses we had, we weren’t able to apply for because of the categories.”

Gannon said the organization couldn’t apply for reimbursements for gift cards for food given to asylum seekers traveling to other parts of the country because members of the organization couldn’t be present to prove the cards were used for meals. He said the organization cared for about 1,200 migrants.

One organization, Colores United, did not apply for reimbursement because the cut off date was June 30, spokeswoman Ariana Saludares told the Journal.

“Though our individual members assisted with relief efforts, our organization didn’t step in until July,” she said. “If they extend the support timelines past June 30th, we will attempt to apply for reimbursement.”

Colores United assisted with relief at the Deming shelter at the former National Guard Armory, Deming City Administrator Aaron Sera said during a Journal visit to the shelter. The relief included providing financial assistance for travel for asylum seekers. The city itself has taken care of more than 10,000 asylum seekers since May.

City of Las Cruces spokesman Udell Vigil said the city has applied for $600,000 in reimbursement funding after taking care of more than 17,000 migrants. He said Las Cruces hasn’t experienced any problems “other than it being a lengthy process.” The city is planning to apply for an additional $6 million, Vigil said.

The city provided funding for shelter, food, clothing, medical, hygiene and travel arrangements for the refugees. The city received a $250,000 grant from the state to help with the relief. Vigil said Las Cruces is expecting another award of a similar amount from the state.

The New Mexico delegation requested an immediate extension for submitting an application for reimbursements for eligible services provided.

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