US Sen. Brian Schatz focused on supplemental appropriations to help in the wake of Lahaina wildfire recovery
August 29, 2023, 10:17 PM HST
* Updated August 29, 10:36 PM
Congressional leaders are focusing on supplemental appropriations needed to help rebuild Lahaina Town, according to US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaiʻi) who is visiting Maui for assessments in the wake of the Aug. 8 wildfire disaster.
“The federal response continues,” said US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaiʻi) who met with FEMA on Tuesday afternoon. “We kind of walked [through] what they need to do next in terms of debris removal… We’re also really starting to focus on the supplemental appropriations, the money that we need to help to rebuild,” he told Maui Now in an interview outside of the county building in Wailuku.
Sen. Schatz said that with other disasters across the country, including a hurricane on a path for Florida, “I think the need on a bipartisan basis to replenish that disaster relief fund is really key,” he said.
“We also have a federally qualified community health center that burned down in the fire. And so, although Kaiser and others… have stepped up, and are providing care, that’s not a sustainable situation. They’re really operating out of the hotels, and trying to provide care wherever they can, but you know, Lahaina needs a facility, and a federally qualified community health center. So we’ve got to rebuild something. We’ve got to decide where that goes, and we’ve got to find the money for it.”
Sen. Schatz has compiled a list of resources to help residents navigate the housing, finance and development portions of recovery. “Whether it’s housing or any other kind of assistance, low-interest or zero interest loans or grants where they are appropriate,” Sen. Schatz said resources are available at schatz.senate.gov.
“We have a list of all the resources that will help you to find whatever you need… So that’s the first thing is we try to keep everything in the same place. I think this is going to be a long recovery, and I want everyone to understand what they’re eligible for,” said Sen. Schatz.
“Over the next six to 12 months, it’s going to be hard. We’re now transitioning in to a recovery period of time, but the devastation was so complete. This is not like a flood. This is not even like a hurricane. Lahaina Town was flattened and so we’re gong to need everything. We’re gong to need road construction and utility reconstruction, utility under grounding, sewer, drinking water—all of it is going to require federal funding. We’re going to be here for the long haul and hand in there together with each other,” said Sen. Schatz.
When asked about concerns expressed by residents and their fears of the uncertainty surrounding the future, Schatz responded:
“I’m pretty confident that all of the victims are going to be housed for many, many months to come. I think the challenge is we probably have about 18 months of subsidized housing—whether that’s in hotels or Airbnbs or elsewhere,” he said. “After that, we’re going to have to move into a more permanent situation for folks. So, for some folks that means their insurance will kick in, and they’ll be able to rebuild—whether that’s in Lahaina or somewhere else. But for other folks, we’re going to have to try to help them find a more permanent housing solution.”
Sen. Schatz said, he doesn’t think anybody knows how long it will take to rebuild Lahaina. Instead he said, “I think we should think in terms of what is the next step. And the next step is to make it clean enough and safe enough for people to go back to their own properties and achieve closure.”
For everyone, the recovery will look a little different. “Some people may not ever want to go back. Some people may want to have a ceremony. Some people may want to see if their personal effects are still there. But they have to have access to their own personal family property, and then the next step is the debris removal. And then after that, comes whatever comes next. But that’s at least a year, a year and a half from now,” said Sen. Schatz.
“Maybe the mistake that some folks made early was talking about rebuilding really quick, and there was this sense that FEMA was going to come in, not let local people back in, and bulldoze and rebuild,” according tot he senator. “That’s not what’s going to happen. We understand the importance of emotional, psychological closure, having access to your own family property. We’ve got to give people a chance to grieve, and then we can talk about moving on,” he said.