Padilla Presses Administration to Prioritize Pajaro River Flood Projects and Protect Low-Income Communities
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, participated in a hearing on President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal. There, he pushed Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Shalanda Young to ensure adequate resources go to historically overlooked and low-income communities like Pajaro, California, which disproportionately bear the impacts of natural disasters due to lack of adequate protections.
Senator Padilla has secured $149 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address the urgent flood risks along the Pajaro River, including the modernization of the 74-year old levee that breached this month before improvements could be made.
Padilla pressed Director Young on how she would ensure that OMB collaborates with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reassess the “Benefit Cost Ratio” formula—which is based in part on property values and routinely overlooks low-income areas—so that communities like Pajaro receive the resources they need before disaster strikes. During the exchange, Director Young committed to working with Senator Padilla and Congress to ensure resources and benefits go to all communities, not just wealthy ones, for generations to come.
He also raised ongoing issues with the Colorado River Basin and asked Director Young how OMB is planning to collaborate with other federal agencies to implement a whole-of-government approach to addressing the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin. Director Young affirmed OMB’s commitment to bring agencies together to reimagine solutions for the Colorado River Basin, and said funds from the Inflation Reduction Act were a good starting point for long-term systemic change to address water needs.
- PADILLA: I was proud to help secure a $82 million in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to begin the project to reinforce the levees in this historically underserved and largely farmworker community of Pajaro, California. And unfortunately, I imagine you’ve seen the images for days now. Mother Nature did not wait for the Corp to complete its work. This past week, the levee broke, flooding the town and displacing hundreds of households.
Director Young, you and I have talked about the need to address how the Army Corps as well as OMB should be thinking beyond just the benefit-cost ratio in order to ensure we’re protecting vulnerable communities, equitably. How can we shift the federal government’s approach to ensure that communities like Pajaro and Watsonville receive the resources they need before it’s too late?
- YOUNG: Those communities are more than a benefit cost ratio. You have my commitment to work with you, in Congress to make sure there is change beyond when I’m in the seat to make sure that we’re looking at a way to be absolutely cost conscious. […] This idea that poor communities don’t deserve the same flood control protection as those with higher, higher value and houses is just patently unfair. So I’m sorry, we got there too late to those communities. But, you know, I certainly want to work with you and see what we can do to systemically change this for the future.
On Colorado River
- PADILLA: “I want to first thank you for OMBs role in facilitating the Administration’s commitment to invest 250 million dollars from the Inflation Reduction Act to address the public health and environmental disasters at the Salton Sea… Second, the four billion dollars included in the IRA for the Colorado River, these should just be seen as a down payment, given the magnitude of the crisis facing the seven states. It’ll go a long way, it was put to urgent good use, but it’s a one-time investment in an ongoing concern. So my question is this: how is OMB working with the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and other agencies to leverage Inflation Reduction Act and other funding as part of a whole of government approach to addressing the challenges facing the Colorado River?”
- YOUNG: The Colorado River Basin impacts forty million Americans, seven states, it is a complex problem and it will take a whole of government approach, and OMB is situated to be able to bring the various agencies together and make sure that we are putting our best minds and creativeness to this problem. As you pointed out, this is, this needs to be reimagined for the long term, and we appreciate the infrastructure in the IRA funds, they’re helping get us started and without those I don’t know where we would be, but this has to be a long, systemic-change in how the government views the Colorado River Basin, and we’re committed to doing that with your partnership.