Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Financially struggling federal firefighters to receive rent refunds

By 37ci3 Jun25,2024

Federal wildland firefighters, some of whom earn about $20 an hour for the grueling and often life-threatening work, soon will. a reprieve housing problems they have been crowding their ranks for a long time.

Tuesday, Chief Randy Moore of the US Forest Service sent a letter to employees announcing a temporary rent refund program for US Forest Service employees living in public housing. This will affect between 4,500 and 5,500 employees by March 10.

Refunds will cover 50% of rent for certain employees. According to the memo, employees in higher ranks can claim back 10% of the rent.

“Housing affordability significantly impacts the lives of all agency employees,” Moore said in a letter obtained by NBC News. “We are making this move with the authority and resources we have. We have to use all the tools in our work. The toolbox is not as broad as we would like it to be.”

There are federal wildland firefighters fought for years to increase their wages and improve their living conditions as the fires become more and more dangerous.

Forest Service workers living in public housing suffer from moldy walls, broken toilets, long trips, and more even bedbugs.

About 1,600 Forest Service firefighters, or more than 10% of wildland firefighting personnel, lived in public housing last year, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the agency.

“Due to increased demand and a preference for short-term rentals in the private market,” the USDA said, “housing availability is limited or nonexistent in areas closest to workplaces, including ski resort communities, mountain town communities, and rural areas.”

Frustrated by the ongoing problems, federal firefighters continue to walk for higher pay in state and municipal offices. This summer, dozens of federal fire trucks, among others, are out of work fire escape wave.

Firefighter advocates have warned in recent years that continued attrition rates could starve the agency, which protects millions of acres of public lands across the country, of its most experienced and skilled workers.

“The men and women who serve in the USDA Forest Service deserve adequate and livable housing. Housing costs in both urban and rural areas have skyrocketed in recent years, creating serious challenges for Forest Service employees,” said Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees.

“The measures announced today will go a long way to alleviate housing challenges and help improve the quality of life for our dedicated employees in the Forest Service,” he said.

The Forest Service faces a Sept. 30 funding deadline in 2021, when the $20,000 or 50% retention bonus established by the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act could expire.

If that happens, starting wages will return to the federal employee minimum of $15 an hour, according to the Government Accountability Office. the report says “does not reflect the risk or physical demands of the job.”

In the meantime, the Forest Service said it is prioritizing the repair and replacement of dormitories, dormitories, duplexes, single-family homes and trailer pads used by workers.

He also said President Joe Biden’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2025 includes a request for $25 million “to carry out critical facilities repairs to improve the condition of public housing for Forest Service wildland firefighters and other essential workers.”

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By 37ci3

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