EDITORIAL: Aid to Malheur County needed, so is explanation for denial

President Trump doesn’t think Malheur County suffered enough from last winter’s storms. That seems to be the message in the dismissive letter from his administration last week turning down a federal disaster declaration for our area. The president ought to reconsider.

Earlier this month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency told the Enterprise that approval of the disaster declaration awaited only Trump’s signature. The paperwork was at the White House. Now, FEMA tells Oregon: Never mind. The letter to Gov. Kate Brown said the storms weren’t of such “severity and magnitude” as to warrant federal help. What?

On behalf of Malheur County, Brown asked the feds for $1.6 million. Most of this would be to put cash back in the till that local entities spent just trying to survive the storms. Ontario School District and Saint Alphonsus Medical Center, for instance, spent more than $1 million on snow removal and protection. You can bet that money otherwise would have been used in some fashion to educate kids or treat patients.

Not a dime of this federal aid would have gone into private hands. This was not charity for onion growers or other ag interests. No private property owners who lost anything from a car port to an equipment shed would have benefited. Nor would the countless local businesses who spent dearly just to keep doors open and serve a battered community.

The ask by Brown, in reality, was pretty miniscule. Good heavens, the governor herself found $1 million to send along just to Malheur County. But the feds couldn’t crack their treasuries to help one of Oregon’s poorest counties? It’s not as if there is no money in Washington, D.C. FEMA itself budgets $7 billion currently for disaster relief. Seven billion dollars. We wanted just the spare change for Malhuer County’s recovery.

And while the Trump administration was dithering over whether to help, federal officials magically found $8 billion to throw on the table in bargaining over the latest health care insurance reform. Remember that $8 billion? In truth, the money bought Congressional votes. Speaker Paul Ryan needed some inducement to get straying Republicans back in line to vote for the reform package. Somehow he and the Trump administration could pony up the $8 billion in a matter of hours.

That was pure politics, and perhaps the Trump administration’s rejection of the Oregon request is too. After all, Brown hasn’t been particularly supportive of the new president and has been especially critical of the health care reforms. It’d be easy to see that a Republican president looks at a request from a Democratic governor and decides to say no.

In the context of national affairs, Malheur County’s travails probably don’t seem too striking. But that’s always been the problem with Washington – the world looks a lot different depending on whether you’re sitting in a storied government office or you’re on a snow-covered roof on the business end of a snow shovel. The few dollars Malheur County seeks would go a long way to help and the allocation wouldn’t even be a rounding error in Washington.

The governor said she intends to challenge the denial, as she should. Rep. Greg Walden, who has said he talked to Trump about Oregon’s request, ought to stand shoulder to shoulder with her. Let’s put politics aside and get this done. — LZ