Anna's Weekly Update
The CZU Lightning Complex fire continues to burn in many communities in our Congressional District. As I write to you, it is now Day 12 of the fires in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, 83,133 acres have burned, forcing the evacuations of 74,000, with more than 40,000 still evacuated, 575 homes have been lost, and 10,207 structures are threatened. 2,105 firefighters are being assisted by law enforcement agencies, a host of county and state agencies and organizations, as well as the Red Cross. Importantly, air operations have been able to engage, with six helicopters up Thursday afternoon. Much progress has been made in the last several days and the fires are now 27% contained. The more the weather cooperates, the more progress can be made.
I spent an entire day, accompanied by Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart, a first-rate professional, to see firsthand all the operations. I visited the evacuation center at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds where thousands are housed. Because of the generosities of so many, the multiple needs of evacuees are being met. Local restaurants are providing thousands of meals daily. I toured the Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center and the Cal Fire Incident Base Camp in Scotts Valley, where I met with first responders, staff and volunteers. I
received excellent briefings and I’m grateful for their patience in answering all of my questions. It is breathtaking to see the superb teams coming to the aid of my constituents in their hour of need. As evacuation orders are slowly being lifted and some residents are allowed to return to their homes, they ask that everyone is mindful of hazardous conditions and to keep the roads clear for first responders.
There is good news. Officials are notifying individuals in the following communities and zones that they may return to their home:
- Scotts Valley residents west of State Route 17, including unincorporated Scotts Valley
- The unincorporated areas of Scotts Valley
- Paradise Park
- Cave Gulch area
- Bean Hollow State Beach area
- Pescadero Beach area
- Pescadero Creek County Park area
- Pescadero area
- San Gregorio area
- La Honda area
- Langley Hill and Red Barn area
- Russian Ridge Open Space area
- Portola Redwoods State Park, Portola Heights
- Middleton Tract
- Areas of Zayante
- Eastern area of Bear Creek Road
- Areas of Bear Creek Road east of Amber Ridge Loop
- Mt. Hermon area
Please check the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Facebook page for updates about lifting additional evacuation orders in Santa Cruz County and San Mateo County’s Wildfire Recovery website for updates in San Mateo County.
More than anything else when I was driving home that night, I knew I had witnessed the best of
America…professionals fighting so hard to protect others, and the goodness, decency, and
generosity of extraordinary ordinary Americans, the people I’m blessed to represent. I’m also grateful for the tireless work of Santa Cruz County Supervisors Ryan Coonerty and Bruce McPherson, and Assemblymember Mark Stone in coming to the aid of our mutual constituents.
I’ve compiled a Fire Recovery Guide to assist individuals and families in navigating the multiple issues facing them. You can find a link to the guide here; the Spanish version here; and a complete list of resources on my website here. The most important thing constituents can do to receive federal assistance is to register with FEMA by visiting www.DisasterAssistance.gov or calling 1-800-621-3362.
Separately, it’s been a sad week for federal scientists. Both the CDC and the FDA were bullied into misguided decisions and misleading statements by the White House. Media outlets reported this week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was pressured by
Trump Administration officials to change COVID-19 testing guidelines to exclude individuals who do not have symptoms, even if they’ve recently been exposed to COVID-19. Meanwhile, the President announced that the FDA had issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for convalescent plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 as a treatment for the disease. While announcing the EUA, the President and the FDA Commissioner grossly misrepresented the effectiveness of this treatment, producing a national response from the scientific and medical communities across the country.
The public health of our country must be guided by science. This week I called for the public release of the data supporting the Trump Administration’s decision to change the COVID-19 testing guidelines to discourage testing for exposed people without symptoms. Without
transparency and science, we’re left fighting a deadly pandemic with distrust and confusion.
Visit to Evacuation Shelter and Fire Command Posts
Rep. Eshoo meets with staff at Santa Cruz County’s Emergency Operations Center.
I visited the Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center with Sheriff Jim Hart where I met with first responders, staff and volunteers and thanked them on your behalf for their tireless efforts and for their excellent briefing.
Rep. Eshoo touring the Watsonville Evacuation Center with Santa Cruz County officials. This building at the Fairgrounds shows some of the tents evacuees are staying in.
This week I visited the evacuation center at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, the largest shelter in Santa Cruz County, and met with constituents who have been evacuated from their homes. My staff and I also distributed a Fire Recovery Guide that my office put together to assist people in navigating the multiple issues facing them. Approximately 580 individuals are staying at this location, with capacity to accept more evacuees in shelters and RVs. The Fairgrounds have Wi-Fi that has been supplemented by T-Mobile with mobile hotspots and additional resources (T-Mobile also gave away phones for those who need them). There are showers and bathrooms with essentials provided by the county and so many generous donors.
Rep. Eshoo participating in Cal Fire’s CZU Lightning Complex Fire
Basecamp media briefing in Scotts Valley with local, county, and state officials.
Eshoo Staff manning the Information Booth at the evacuation center.
Briefing from the FCC on Communications Outages
Last week, I wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is charged with overseeing our nation’s communications networks, requesting a briefing about the condition of California’s communications infrastructure that has been impacted by wildfires and associated blackouts
Today, the FCC shared with me that it has received reports of 183 cell tower outages since August 14th, impacting 429,000 Californians. The FCC also shared important information with me about their coordination with California state agencies and the use of wireless emergency alerts by local government officials. While our communications infrastructure is doing better than last year – there were 874 cell site outages on October 28, 2019 – I’m monitoring the situation closely because any communication outages are dangerous for impacted individuals.
New Wildfire Resources for Individuals and Families
Santa Cruz County Recovery Center
The Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center announced the opening of a joint federal, state and local Recovery Resource Center (RRC) to help residents impacted by the CZU Lighting Complex fire connect with the resources needed to recover and rebuild. More information can be found here.
Helpful Information from the Red Cross
The Red Cross is actively assisting evacuees at 19 shelters across San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties and has published a helpful FAQ for residents of the shelters and the public. To access this resource, click here.
Covered California Special Enrollment Period
Covered California announced the establishment of new paths to coverage during the current special-enrollment period. While the special-enrollment period for those who are uninsured ends on August 31, 2020, consumers who are victims of the wildfires, who lose their job (even if they do not receive health care coverage through their employer), or who suffer a loss of income, could be eligible to sign up for coverage from September 1st to December 31, 2020.
Consumers interested in learning more about their coverage options can:
- Visit www.CoveredCA.com.
- Chat with a Covered California Service Representative.
- Have a certified enroller call them and help them for free.
- Call Covered California at (800) 300-1506.
Assistance for Homeowners with Federally-Backed Mortgages
Homeowners who have a Fannie Mae-owned mortgage and have been impacted by the wildfires may qualify for the following benefits:
- Homeowners may request mortgage assistance by contacting their mortgage servicer following a disaster;
- Mortgage servicers are authorized to suspend or reduce a homeowner’s mortgage
payments for up to 90 days if the servicer believes the homeowner was affected; and
- Homeowners affected by disaster are often eligible to reduce or suspend their mortgage payments for up to 12 months.
During this temporary payment break:
- Homeowners will not incur late fees;
- Foreclosure and other legal proceedings are suspended; and
- There are a number of options available to potentially help homeowners catch up on missed payments.
Renters living in Fannie Mae-financed properties can also access assistance related to their recovery. Homeowners and renters should call 877-833-1746 for more information.
Legislation I Introduced and Cosponsored This Week
Increase Federal Disaster Cost Share Act of 2020
Last week, the President approved a Major Disaster Declaration for counties impacted by the wildfires in California, including San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties. The disaster declaration allows state and local governments to receive federal assistance from FEMA for “emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities.” The federal government covers 75 percent of the costs, and state and local governments split the remaining 25 percent. However, state and local governments continue to face historic budget shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic which may prevent them from meeting the 25 percent cost-share requirement.
That’s why I introduced the Increase Federal Disaster Cost Share Act of 2020 with Reps. Mike Thompson, Jimmy Panetta, and others to increase the federal cost share from 75 percent to 90 percent for any federal disaster declaration beginning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic through the end of 2020. This will ensure that state and local governments can get the assistance they need as they continue to deliver critical services to the public during the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency.
Letters I Wrote and Cosigned this Week
Letter Requesting IRS Assistance for Wildfire Victims
Following the California wildfires in 2017, 2018, and 2019, the IRS extended temporary relief to taxpayers affected by the fires for both residential and commercial taxes. Among other assistance, this relief has included an extension of tax filing deadlines; a waiver of filing, payment, or deposit fees; and expedited service for affected taxpayers seeking documents, such as previous years’ returns.
This week I wrote to the Commissioner of the IRS urging him to immediately extend critical
relief measures to those affected by the ongoing wildfires in California. Thankfully, the IRS
granted this assistance to taxpayers as a result of the President’s disaster declaration, including the postponement of tax-filing and tax-payment deadlines for taxpayers, waiving penalties on late payroll and excise tax deposits and late returns filed. Victims of the California wildfires that began August 14th now have until December 15, 2020 to file various individual and business tax returns and make tax payments to the IRS for any area designated by FEMA as qualifying for individual assistance. This includes residents of San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties impacted by the CZU August Lightning fires. To learn more about this assistance, click HERE.
To read a copy of my letter to the IRS, click HERE.
In the Words of My Constituents
Every week hundreds of my constituents call and write to me to express their concerns, share their passions, and ask questions regarding legislation and policies. Over 105,525 constituents have contacted me in 2020. I actually read every communication and every constituent receives a personal response to their specific questions and comments from me. This week, 1,670 constituents contacted my office about issues including:
- 271 messages in support of the USPS
- 104 messages about the Israeli Annexation Non-Recognition Act
- 74 messages in support of the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act
Anna’s Work in the News
My work is often featured in local and national press outlets and I share them with you here for your perusal.
Santa Cruz Sentinel (8/21/20) - “Santa Cruz cities prepare for fire arrival"
Santa Cruz Local (8/26/20) - “Long road home for Santa Cruz County fire evacuees"
Vice (8/27/20) - “The Loophole the DMV Uses to Sell Your Data to Private Investigators"
Eshoo Op-Ed in The Hill (8/27/20) - “The pandemic highlights the need of connectivity for college students"
Anna’s Recommended Reading and Watching
I frequently read articles or see videos that I think my constituents would benefit from. Check out these articles when you have some time.
The Washington Post Editorial Board (8/27/20) – “The guardians of public health are allowing Trump to undermine and humiliate them"
The New York Times Editorial Board (8/25/20) – “The F.D.A. Commissioner’s Fuzzy Math"
Let’s all keep our neighbors who have been evacuated in our prayers, for all the fire fighters and first responders, and for the thousands of acts of kindness by so many.