President Biden announces $95M to harden Hawaiʻi’s power grid

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HECO power repairs in Lahaina, Maui after deadly wildfires. PC: Wendy Osher (8.29.23)

President Biden announced the Department of Energy is providing $95 million through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to harden Hawaiʻi’s electric grid.

This includes the improvement of service, limiting damage during future events, and helping to prevent failures in the future that could lead to severe events.

The funding is intended to be used for the following:

  • Strengthen critical transmission lines, including two on Maui.
  • Harden poles supporting critical facilities such as hospitals, water facilities, emergency response, and military
  • Replace wooden poles with fire-resistant material.
  • Deploy intelligent switches and materials to help reduce wildfire risk.
  • Remove hazard trees.
  • Relocate the Maui control center to a more secure and resilient location.

The Biden announcement says this investment will help reduce the likelihood of outages, reduce restoration times following outages, reduce risk of wildfire events, and increase grid operational resilience.  

President Joe Biden gets a quick fire briefing by FEMA officials on Front Street in Lahaina. PC: Cammy Clark (8.21.23)

According to the administration, President Biden is convening Cabinet and Agency officials who are supporting long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts on the ground – to discuss the work underway to support the people of Maui as they heal, rebuild and recover over the long-term.

This comes following the presidential visit to Maui last week, in which President Biden visited with search and rescue crews on scene, and met with wildfire survivors.


The Administration encourages individuals impacted by the disaster to register for Federal assistance at or by calling 1-800-621-3362 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week). FEMA also has multiple language translations available.

Impacted individuals can also visit FEMA’s joint Disaster Recovery Centers at:

  • The University of Hawaiʻi Maui College, located at 310 W. Kaʻahumanu Avenue, Kahului; or
  • The Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center, located at 91 Pukalani St. in Upcountry.

At these centers, the public can speak personally with FEMA specialists, get help registering for disaster assistance, get in touch with voluntary organizations offering additional support services, and have access to other federal and state resources. 


Below is an update provided by the Biden-Harris Administration, detailing the federal coordinated response effort on Maui:

  • More than 1,000 federal personnel are on the ground on Maui, 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 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 assisting. The number of residents in hotels and non-congregate shelters is now much higher, according to Gov. Josh Green. On Monday, he reported that there are more than 6,000 people now being temporarily housed in hotels and Airbnb units. 
  • 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 have participated in the coordinated response to the Lahaina wildfire. This includes help with fire suppression, searching debris for remains, distributing fuel, installing generators for emergency power, assisting portable 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 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 for guidance.
  • The US 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 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.
  • The Department of the Interior is supporting firefighting and search and rescue operations. 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 of Energy 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.
  • The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 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, through FirstNet is providing wireless high-speed Internet connectivity and voice communications for first responders and emergency management.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response has deployed responders, including experts from the 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.
  • The US Small Business Administration’s 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. 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, Kīhei, HI  96753. The center phone number is 800-659-2955. These Centers provide services to survivors including homeowners, renters, and small business owners seeking financial assistance.
  • The US Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved waivers, including those that will allow Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program households in Hawaiʻi, including on Maui, to purchase hot foods with SNAP benefits through Sept. 14; allow package size flexibility for those using the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program through Oct. 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 US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has deployed a Burned Area Emergency Response team, as well as a National Incident Management Organization 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 US Department of Housing and Urban Development 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 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 help communities and families that were experiencing homelessness before the devastating fires and those that may require homeless services because of the fires.
  • The US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has created a disaster and emergencies 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 US Department of Transportation has made available $3 million, the full amount of “quick release” Emergency Relief funds requested by the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation, 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 US airlines that serve Kahului Airport to promote flexible travel policies.
  • The Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a partnership between FEMA and 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.

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