Hawaii state and county officials seeking $1B from Legislature for Maui recovery

Hawaii state and county officials are requesting about $1 billion from the Legislature to help cover Maui wildfire recovery expenses in the near term

Via AP news wire
Wednesday 21 February 2024 22:04 GMT
Hawaii Wildfire
Hawaii Wildfire (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Hawaii state and county officials have requested about $1 billion from the Legislature to help cover Maui wildfire recovery expenses in the near term.

Gov. Josh Green's administration had budgeted $199 million for such expenses but are now expecting they may need $561 million under a “worst-case” scenario, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

The budget discussions come more than six months after the Aug. 8 wildfire killed 101 people, destroyed the historic town of Lahaina and rendered thousands of people homeless.

One major reason for the jump in expenses is the greater-than-expected costs for fire survivors deemed ineligible for federal assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA pays 90% of the cost to house eligible survivors in hotels, and the state pays the remaining 10%. FEMA doesn't share costs for ineligible survivor households, of which there are 820.

People not eligible for FEMA assistance include undocumented immigrants, migrants from Compacts of Free Association states and some condominium owners.

The state has agreed to FEMA's ineligibility determination for only 29 households and is contesting the remainder.

At $1,000 day per household, 820 households are costing the state $820,000 a day, or $24.6 million a month.

Luis Salaveria, the director of the state Department of Budget and Finance, said actual expenses may be less because the state is challenging FEMA eligibility determinations.

“This situation has been extremely in flux from the beginning,” he told the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

Senators are considering asking state agencies to cut spending by up to 15% to balance the budget as a result.

The state has a rainy day fund with a balance of about $1.5 billion. But officials are reluctant to draw on it because it helps secure a good credit rating that keeps down long-term financing costs for capital improvement projects.

Maui County estimates its costs for wildfire recovery will be about $600 million over the next three years. On Monday, it told Green’s administration it wants the state to cover $402 million of that total.

The money would go toward infrastructure, housing and emergency response costs.

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