Washington, D.C. – Last week, Congressman John Curtis and Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO), co-chairs of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, introduced legislation to automatically make document replacement after disasters free of charge. The Replacing Essential Passports and Licenses After Certain Emergencies (REPLACE) Act will greatly benefit victims of future wildfires and climate induced natural disasters.

“When a wildfire destroys a home, the last thing that a family should worry about is paying fees to replace their federal documents such as passports or citizenship forms that have been destroyed. Currently, States must request these waivers after a disaster, adding another hurdle for families, and delaying the replacement of lost forms needed for countless activities and approval processes. The REPLACE Act would automatically waive these fees for households and individuals already receiving Federal disaster assistance – giving those affected by home or business loss one less thing to worry about in their time of need.” said Congressman John Curtis.

“Over the past several months my staff have assisted many survivors of the Marshall Fire in recovering critical documents. From passports to birth certificates, the fees for replacing all that was lost can quickly become overwhelming” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “The REPLACE Act will ease the burden of recovery by issuing fee waivers for people impacted, automatically allowing passports and immigration documents to be replaced at no additional cost. We must continue to be present for our healing communities, and this bill is a small way we can show our support on the federal level.”

Federal law currently allows for replacement fees for passports, visas, proof of citizenship and other documents to be waived, but the waiver process is neither automatic nor guaranteed, and must be requested by States. This means that survivors have to wait for confirmation that the costs of replacement are relinquished, and affected parties rarely know when or if the program is available. 

The REPLACE Act amends the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 to require that certain critical document fees be automatically waived for individuals and households that are affected by major disasters and where Individuals and Households Program (IHP) assistance has been granted for that disaster. 

This waiver would apply to:

  • Passport and/or Visa forms
  • Permanent Resident Card replacement forms
  • Declaration of Intention forms
  • Naturalization/Citizenship Document forms
  • Employment Authorization forms
  • Biometric service fees

BACKGROUND:

In 2021, there were 58,985 wildfires that burned 7,125,643 acres, according to the National Interagency Coordination Council. As fire seasons grow longer and communities face increasingly destructive and costly wildfires, it is imperative that Congress prioritize proactive, science-based forest management policies to improve national preparedness and response to wildfires. Adequate fire preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts are critical to ensuring communities are resilient and have every tool necessary to protect lives, property, and the land itself. 

Wildfire mitigation, response, and recovery are a top priority for Congressman Curtis. As part of those efforts, he has introduced the following legislation: 

  • Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act of 2021 – The Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act of 2021 established a commission of federal and non-federal stakeholders—including city and county level representation—to study and recommend fire prevention, mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands. The commission was established through the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
  • Aerial Incursion Repercussion (AIR) Safety Act – The AIR Safety Act directs land managers and the FAA to examine the consequences of private drones flying near wildfires resulting in aerial firefighting responses to be grounded. The AIR Safety Act recently passed the House by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. 
  • Making Access to Cleanup Happen (MATCH) Act – After hosting Senior USDA officials, including the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, in Utah, the Congressman introduced the MATCH Act, which directs USDA to publish pre-approved watershed cleanup activities that communities can start immediately following a fire and ensures that work counts toward their mandatory contribution to Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program projects. 
  • Funding Local Assistance and Recovery Efforts (FLARE) Act – The FLARE Act will also allow watershed rehabilitation to begin more quickly following a wildfire by ensuring that EWP sponsoring counties and cities are able to receive retroactive payments for work that they complete on EWP projects during the time between the project being approved and funds being distributed. 
  • Study on Improving Lands (SOIL) Act – The SOIL Act requires USDA and the Bureau of Land Management to examine the effect of wildfire and different land-use practices on the ability of soil to sequester carbon. 
  • Wildfire and Community Health Response Act of 2020 – The Wildfire and Community Health Response Act of 2020 aims to support the health of firefighters and emergency response teams and mitigate the impact of wildfires on vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic by requiring a report to Congress outlining actions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, protect the respiratory health of local communities, and guard against future wildfire.

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