President Biden Announces $95 Million In Federal Funding For Maui Wildfire Victims

President Biden Announces $95 Million In Federal Funding For Maui Wildfire Victims

Since the start of the unprecedented wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, President Biden has led a whole-of-government effort to assist survivors and affected communities, and the President signed a Major Disaster Declaration as soon as Hawaii Governor Josh Green requested one.

As part of this commitment, President Biden is convening Cabinet and Agency officials who are supporting long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts on the ground today to discuss the work being done to help the people of Maui heal, rebuild, and recover in the long run.

As President Biden stated during his visit to Maui last week, the Biden-Harris Administration will do everything possible to assist Maui in its recovery and rebuilding. Throughout these efforts, the Administration will prioritize the protection of sacred lands, cultures, and traditions. The administration will remain on the ground for as long as it takes to complete the response efforts.

President Biden announced that the Department of Energy will provide $95 million through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to harden Hawaii’s electric grid, improve service, limit damage during future events, and help prevent future failures that could lead to severe events as part of this commitment.

The funds will be used to strengthen critical transmission lines, including two on Maui; harden poles supporting critical facilities such as hospitals, water treatment plants, emergency response, and military; replace wooden poles with fire-resistant material; deploy intelligent switches and materials to help reduce wildfire risk; remove hazard trees; and relocate the Maui control center to a more secure and resilient location. This investment will help reduce the likelihood of outages, shorten restoration times following outages, lower the risk of wildfires, and increase reliability.

Hundreds of personnel from dozens of Federal departments and agencies remain on the ground, assessing ongoing needs and providing resources and personnel to support response efforts.

Individuals affected by the disaster are encouraged to register for Federal assistance at or by calling 1-800-621-3362 (24 hours a day, seven days a week).

Furthermore, as we work to provide communications to those affected by the Hawaii wildfires, FEMA has multiple language translations available.

Impacted individuals can also visit FEMA’s joint Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) at the University of Hawaii Maui College, 310 W. Ka’ahumanu Avenue, Kahului, Hawai’i, or the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center, 91 Pukalani St., Makawao, Hawai’i, to speak with FEMA specialists, register for disaster assistance, connect with voluntary organizations providing additional support services, and gain access to other resources.

The store is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. HST.

Here is an update on the Biden-Harris Administration’s coordinated federal response:

More than 1,000 federal personnel are on the ground on Maui assisting residents in their greatest time of need, including FEMA’s Disaster Survivor Assistance teams who are reaching people where they are to help survivors register for assistance.

To date, the Biden-Harris Administration has approved more than $16 million in assistance to 4,200 households

FEMA has made available more than 50,000 meals75,000 liters of water, 5,000 cots and 10,000 blankets and shelter supplies to the county government for distribution.

Thanks to the significant partnership between the Hawaiʻi Fire Relief Housing program administered by the American Red Cross and funded by FEMA, all congregate shelters have been closed as more than 2,500 residents have successfully been moved into hotels. More than 350 Red Cross disaster responders are working in coordination with partners to ensure people receive help as quickly as possible.

In the wake of the wildfires, President Biden made additional disaster funding available to the state of Hawaiʻi, unlocking the federal government’s ability to cover all eligible expenses for debris removal and emergency protective measures in Maui County and assistance for emergency protective measures for Hawaiʻi County. The President authorized the federal cost share to be increased from 75% to 100% for 30 days that the Governor selects within the first 120 days.

More than 700 personnel from the Department of Defense and 119 members of the Coast Guard are actively participating in the coordinated response to the Western Maui Wildfire.  They are assisting with fire suppression, searching debris for remains, distributing fuel, installing generators for emergency power, assisting potable water distribution support, providing grief counseling and emotional support, and providing additional life-sustaining support.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Honolulu Division is assisting the Maui Police Department with their efforts to locate and identify those who are missing or may be victims of the wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii, by helping collect DNA samples from family members. Family members are encouraged to visit family assistance centers in Maui to provide a DNA sample or reach out to the FBI at (808) 566-4300 or to [email protected] for guidance.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deployed 48 responders, 25 remote personnel, and 51 contractors who are assisting with public works and engineering support, which includes installing 20 generators for temporary emergency power, planning to execute debris collection and removal, and scoping potential requirements for temporary construction of critical public facilities such as schools, fire, and police stations.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deployed more than 130 responders to Maui following the Hawaiʻi wildfires and has a full incident command team on the ground working closely with FEMA and other federal, state, and local partners. The agency’s efforts are focused on monitoring air and water quality and identifying, removing, and safely disposing of household hazardous materials and disaster debris to protect residents from environmental and health hazards. This is the critical step in the recovery process before the clearing of non-hazardous debris. EPA’s response efforts while on Maui are guided by its cultural resources and historic properties plan that the agency developed with the Maui County cultural leaders and Hawaiʻi State Historic Preservation Division. This plan is helping responders across the entire federal family identify, protect, and properly handle cultural resources, that were significantly impacted during the wildfire.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is supporting firefighting and search and rescue operations while working to protect natural and cultural resources on Maui in coordination with federal and state partners. DOI personnel are also assisting with assessment and recovery operations, working to determine impacts to wildlife habitats — including coral reefs — as well as assessing the potential for debris flow and ash sediment run-off. The Department is in close contact with Native Hawaiian leaders and organizations to coordinate the availability of services, information, and culturally sensitive opportunities for engagement and healing.

The Department of Energy (DOE) is announcing a $95 million grant through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to harden Hawaiʻi’s electric grid. Additionally, DOE has deployed emergency responders to support the Federal response to the wildfires on Maui. DOE is working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Hawaiʻi State Energy Office, and the Hawaiʻi Office of Emergency Management.

The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is providing enhanced monitoring of the areas affected by the wildfires using high-resolution monitoring tools to detect potential flood threats due to increased runoff potential from burn scar areas. Additionally, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), through FirstNet – a public-private partnership between the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T – is providing wireless high-speed Internet connectivity and voice communications for first responders and emergency management. FirstNet used its resilient deployable assets such as Cell on Light Trucks (COLTS) and other deployable assets to restore or enhance cellular coverage for 10 locations on Maui. The Maui Police Department, Hawaii State agencies, and Federal and State Urban Search and Rescue teams are all using FirstNet for critical communications in response to this devastating wildfire.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) has deployed responders from ASPR, including experts from their Victim Identification Center team to assist Maui County with victim identification. ASPR also deployed a portable morgue unit to help with processing human remains and additional personnel to bolster mental health staff and resources available at Lahaina Comprehensive Health Center. In addition, ASPR activated the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program, a federal program that helps people in a federally identified disaster area who do not have health insurance get the prescription drugs, vaccinations, medical supplies, and equipment that they need. Secretary Becerra also issued a Public Health Emergency shortly after the President’s disaster declaration, giving CMS healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting the emergency health needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries on the ground. HHS’ Disaster Distress Helpline – 1-800-985-5990 – is available to provide immediate counseling to anyone affected by the wildfires.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Disaster Recovery and Resilience has 61 staff on the ground in Hawaiʻi and more are being phased in. Survivors and businesses who register for FEMA assistance will also be eligible for low-interest disaster loans. SBA has approved more than $13 million in federal disaster loans for Hawaiʻi businesses and residents impacted by wildfires. To be considered for all forms of disaster assistance, survivors must first register with FEMA. SBA continues to operate the Disaster Business Recovery Center (BRC) for survivors of the Maui wildfires and is part of the multi-agency presence at the DRCs. Information and details on the location of the business recovery center and disaster recovery centers are available by calling the SBA Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955. These Centers provide services to survivors including homeowners, renters, and small business owners seeking financial assistance. The SBA Disaster Business Recovery Center is located at Hawaiʻi Technology Development Corporation, Maui Research Technology Center, Building #A, Ste. 119 (Conference Room), 590 Lipoa Pkwy, Kihei, HI 96753.

SBA is also conducting outreach to businesses throughout Maui County to take advantage of the Physical Damage and Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, and staff are working with survivors where they are by conducting outreach in state-run Family Assistance Centers and door-to-door campaigns.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved waivers, including those that will allow Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households in Hawaiʻi, including on Maui, to purchase hot foods with SNAP benefits through September 14; allow package size flexibility for those using the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program through October 31 so they have more options to purchase what is available; and allow parents or guardians to pick up meals for children at grab ‘n go sites. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has deployed a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team, as well as a National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team to Hawaiʻi. The BAER team will analyze and map the impacts of the fire to watersheds, including the potential for runoff and debris flows to carry hazardous materials and support state and local staff in assessing post-fire watershed conditions and post-fire slope stability issues. The NIMO team will be the central point of coordination for those implementing USDA response and recovery programs on the ground in Hawai’i.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced last week a $1.3 million funding allocation to help communities on Maui in the wake of the wildfires through the department’s new Rapid Unsheltered Survivor Housing (RUSH) program, a rapid response program to address homelessness by filling in federal assistance gaps in communities hit by disasters. RUSH funding is available to help communities provide outreach, emergency shelter, rapid re-housing, and other assistance to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness who are in a disaster-affected area but who cannot access all services provided by FEMA programs.

Additionally, HUD is providing a 90-day relief from foreclosures of Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages and home equity conversion mortgages. Homeowners affected by the disaster should contact their mortgage or loan servicer immediately. They can also call the FHA Resource Center at 1-800-304-9320 for additional information and visit the FHA Disaster Relief site to learn more about disaster relief options for FHA homeowners. HUD also released regulatory and administrative waivers to help communities accelerate their recovery. This includes funding for housing rehabilitation and reconstruction, homebuyer programs replacing disaster-damaged residences, infrastructure improvements, and assistance to people at risk of homelessness. HUD has assigned experienced Disaster Technical Assistance providers that will be available remotely and, on the ground, to support local leaders in helping communities and families that were experiencing homelessness before the devastating fires and those that may require homeless services because of the fires.

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has created a disaster and emergency guide to handling finances, including resources to help impacted residents recover, such as tackling housing issues, protecting your finances, dealing with property damage, managing your bills, and asking for help from financial companies like banks, credit cards, and other lenders. If residents are having trouble with a financial company, they can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has made available $3 million, the full amount of “quick release” Emergency Relief (ER) funds requested by the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation (HDOT), to offset costs associated with traffic management services in the wake of the wildfires. Additionally, DOT currently has three temporary flight restrictions in place to help facilitate search and rescue missions and has worked with major U.S. airlines that serve Kahului Airport to promote flexible travel policies.

The Heritage Emergency National Task Force (HENTF), a partnership between FEMA and the Smithsonian Institution, is working through the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency to ensure that museums and cultural heritage sites are incorporated into FEMA preliminary damage assessments to anticipate needs associated with long-term recovery planning.

Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush Lead Colleagues in Calling on President Biden to Commute All Federal Death Row Sentences

Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush Lead Colleagues in Calling on President Biden to Commute All Federal Death Row Sentences

Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01) led 35 of their colleagues in sending a letter to President Biden, urging him to immediately commute the sentences of everyone on federal death row:

“As members of Congress, we stand ready to work with you on your commitment to rebuilding the dignity of America,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter. “We believe that rebuilding the dignity of America requires that we recommit ourselves to the tradition of due process, mercy, and judicial clemency when it comes to matters related to the criminal legal system. For this reason, we urge you to immediately commute the sentences of all those on death row.”

In 2015, the Obama administration halted federal executions by placing a moratorium on the federal death penalty. In 2019, the Trump administration abruptly announced it was reversing the moratorium and moving forward with the first execution in 17 years. On the same day, Representative Pressley introduced legislation to abolish the federal death penalty and resentence all individuals on death row—legislation that Congresswoman Bush joined her and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in reintroducing (H.R. 262) earlier this month. In their letter today, the lawmakers call on Biden to go further than the Obama administration and commute every sentence on death row, ensuring no future president could do what the Trump administration has done in resuming federal executions.

“We appreciate your vocal opposition to the death penalty and urge you to take swift, decisive action. After referring to the death penalty as ‘deeply troubling,’ President Obama halted federal executions and commuted the sentences of two federal prisoners on death row,” the lawmakers continued. “However, the Obama administration’s reticence to commute more death sentences has allowed the Trump administration to reverse course and pursue a horrifying killing spree over the final seven months of his presidency. Commuting the death sentences of those on death row and ensuring that each person is provided with an adequate and unique re-sentencing process is a crucial first step in remedying this grave injustice.”

“We can collectively save the lives of people all across America. We look forward to working with your administration to enact just and restorative policies that will meaningfully transform our criminal legal system for the better. By exercising your clemency power, you can ensure that there would be no one left on death row to kill. Given the historic nature of your administration, this would be an unprecedented – but necessary – action to reverse systemic injustices and restore America’s moral standing.”

The letter is co-signed by 35 House Democrats: Jake Auchincloss, Karen Bass, Donald S. Beyer Jr., Earl Blumenauer, Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D., Danny K. Davis, Diana DeGette, Dwight Evans, Raúl Grijalva, Alcee L. Hastings, Pramila Jayapal, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Mondaire Jones, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Andy Levin, Zoe Lofgren, Alan Lowenthal, A. Donald McEachin, Marie Newman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Jan Schakowsky, Haley M. Stevens, Bennie Thompson, Rashida Tlaib, Paul D. Tonko, Ritchie Torres, David Trone, Juan Vargas, Nydia M. Velázquez, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Peter Welch, Nikema Williams.

Earlier this month, Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with Congresswoman Bush, introduced the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2021 to end the use of the death penalty by the federal government and require the re-sentencing of those previously sentenced to death row. The legislation was originally introduced by Rep. Pressley and Senator Durbin in July 2019 following the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement that it would resume the use of the death penalty.

In December 2020, Congresswoman Pressley led 41 of her House colleagues and three Representatives-Elect, including then Congresswoman-Elect Bush, on a letter calling on President-Elect Joe Biden to end the use of the federal death penalty on his first day in office.  Congresswoman Pressley continues to be a leading voice in calling for the incoming Biden Administration to permanently end this practice through executive order.

In November 2020, Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Durbin, along with Senators Patrick Leahy and Cory Booker, wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr calling for a halt on all scheduled federal executions in the remaining days of the Trump Administration.

In August 2019, Congresswoman Pressley, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Chairman of the Subcommittee, sent letters to the Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Bureau) Hugh J. Hurwitz and Attorney General William P. Barr seeking documents and information regarding the Administration’s July 25, 2019, announcement that the Bureau would resume capital punishment. The Committee is continuing to investigate the administration’s use of this barbaric practice.

President Joe Biden to Establish First-Ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, To Be Overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris

President Joe Biden to Establish First-Ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, To Be Overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris

President Biden will announce the establishment of the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country, and implement and expand upon key executive and legislative action that has been taken to save lives.

The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will be overseen by Vice President Harris, who has been a key leader in the Biden-Harris Administration’s effort to end our nation’s gun violence epidemic.

Stefanie Feldman, a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention, will serve as Director of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, alongside leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox, who will join the Administration as Deputy Directors of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

Statement from the President: “Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something.’ It’s why, last year, I signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to keep guns out of dangerous hands, and have taken more executive action than any President in history to keep communities safe. But as I’ve said before – while these are important steps, they are just the first steps toward what is needed.

“That’s why I’m announcing additional steps forward, with the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, overseen by Vice President Harris, to build upon these measures and keep Americans safe. The Office will include Stefanie Feldman, who has capably led my Administration’s gun violence prevention efforts and been a trusted aide for more than a decade, alongside leading experts Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox whose own lives and families have been touched by the tragedy of gun violence. They have turned their pain into purpose and dedicated their careers to being advocates for change – that important work will continue as they join my team in these new roles.”

“I’ll continue to urge Congress to take commonsense actions that the majority of Americans support like enacting universal background checks and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But in the absence of that sorely needed action, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention along with the rest of my Administration will continue to do everything it can to combat the epidemic of gun violence that is tearing our families, our communities, and our country apart.”

Statement from the Vice President: “Every person and every child deserves the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and live up to their God-given potential. Every family, in every community, should have the freedom to live and to thrive. We know true freedom is not possible if people are not safe. This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day. The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law, while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives. Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare.”

President Joe Biden Offers To Exchange Convicted Russian Arms Trafficker For Brittney Griner

President Joe Biden Offers To Exchange Convicted Russian Arms Trafficker For Brittney Griner

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Wednesday the US has offered to release Victor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year prison sentence, in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner and former US marine Paul Whelan, CNN and Axios report.

Griner testified at her trial in Russia on Wednesday, saying that a language interpreter only translated part of what she said during her questioning, according to The Associated Press. Griner has been detained since February and faces up to 10 years in prison after Russian officials said they found cannabis oil in her luggage.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Have Been Elected the Next President and Vice President of the United States

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Have Been Elected the Next President and Vice President of the United States

Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Democratic nominee Joe Biden has defeated President Trump in the 2020 presidential election after winning Pennsylvania and securing 20 electoral votes, according to projections by The Associated Press and NBC News. Biden released a statement on Saturday: “I am honored and humbled by the trust the American people have placed in me and in Vice President-elect Harris.” Trump also released a statement: “The simple fact is this election is far from over.”

Harris released a video of her phone call with Joe Biden after finding out they were heading to the White House.

Along with being the first woman to hold the office, Senator Kamala Harris is also projected to be the nation’s first Black and Asian American vice president-elect in history, according to NBC and the AP. Harris, 56, is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica.

Joe Biden becomes the 15th vice president to become president of the United States of America.