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Feds belatedly send $67 million in disaster funds to Utah, Colorado, 12 other states

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DENVER — The federal government on Monday belatedly sent $67 million in disaster relief to 15 states, with the biggest share going to Colorado to help recovery from last year's devastating wildfires.

The funds had been held up for months by budget battles in Congress and were stripped from the $60 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package that passed in late January. The money will be used to repair infrastructure and damaged streambeds that can lead to flooding or mudslides.

"This resource is going to allow communities to remove debris from clogged stream channels, to better support and shore up stream banks and public infrastructure that may have been harmed," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on a conference call to announce the Emergency Watershed Protection funding. "It will allow us to help these communities get through a very hard time."

More than 200,000 acres of Colorado's densely populated Front Range burned last year, and residents in those areas have spent much of the spring stockpiling sandbags and worrying about flash floods.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who had pushed to expedite the funding in Congress, said Monday that people are in position in Colorado to start spending the money on projects. "People are on the ground, ready to go," said Udall, who joined Vilsack on the call.

Colorado is receiving $19 million. The area burned in the Waldo Canyon fire, the most destructive fire in the state's history, will get $8.8 million. To the north, the region burned in the High Park fire will receive $8.3 million. The remaining money will go to areas burned in other blazes.

Other states receiving the money that were struck by fires, drought or storms last year: Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico and Ohio.

Udall said he supported prompt disaster aid for last month's Oklahoma tornadoes. The senators from that state had fought against the fire aid.

"I hope we return to those days where we immediately help states when they face natural disasters," Udall said "We are the United States of America."