With Maui desperately in need of federal aid as residents struggle to recover from the Aug. 8 wildfires, the government shutting down and the Federal Emergency Management Agency running out of money “is absolutely not an option,” Hawaii’s U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda said.

“Disasters are continuing to strike across our country.” Tokuda said Wednesday. “It is so critical that the billions and billions of dollars that we need to fund FEMA is put there when we go back in September.”

But in a Congress often mired in disputes over spending, Tokuda and others must come to an agreement over multiple spending bills that impact how many federal agencies are funded, or risk a shutdown of nonessential government functions. And, they’ll have to do it as FEMA’s disaster relief fund contends with a shortfall, which the agency estimated in a July 10 report to Congress could reach over $4 billion by mid-September.

The White House originally requested $12 billion in extra funding for FEMA’s disaster relief fund but on Friday announced another $4 billion as part of its supplemental funding request as the federal government juggles aid for Maui after the fires and Florida after Hurricane Idalia.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a White House press briefing on Tuesday that the $12 billion “will be a bridge to get us through the end of the fiscal year.”

“If we continue to see more storms, we’re going to continuously monitor very closely the health of the disaster relief fund to determine what more may be needed,” Criswell said. “But right now as the situation stands, the supplemental request will get us through the end of the fiscal year.”

More than 1,000 federal personnel, including Criswell and multiple search and rescue teams, flocked to Maui after the Aug. 8 fires that killed at least 115 people and destroyed thousands of structures in Lahaina. Gov. Josh Green estimated damages at about $5 billion to $6 billion.

Tokuda, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Maui, said during a news conference at the University of Hawai’i Maui College on Wednesday that so far the outpouring of support for the island has been strong, with hundreds of members of Congress across the political aisle reaching out to tell her “over and over and over again, we stand with Maui.”

“I think every single one of us knows when you put your feet here, when you feel what we have been feeling, when you see what we have been seeing, when you experience just the devastation but also the hope for where we go from here, you get the urgency,” Tokuda said. “We’re going to fight like hell to make sure when we go back in September, we have the money we need to keep government running so that resources do not slow down here on Maui.”

U.S. House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), who joined fellow Democrat Tokuda on Wednesday, said that it is “a fundamental responsibility that we pass that supplemental, get the funding that FEMA needs.” Clark said she wanted survivors to know that “we are here for the long haul” and that “we are going to bring their stories back to the halls of Congress and they are going to see that reflected in the aid that we are going to continue to bring home to them.”

President Joe Biden and Hawaii’s Congressional members have echoed that sentiment. During a visit to Maui on Aug. 21, Biden said, “we will do everything possible to help you recover.”

“As long as I am president, your governor is governor and this group of your elected officials are there, we are not going to stop until it’s done,” he said.

Earlier this week, the House Oversight and Accountability Committee announced it would launch an investigation into the federal government’s response to the wildfires. U.S. Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) said in a statement that the federal, state and local response to the fires “raises serious questions and Americans, especially those impacted by this tragedy, deserve answers.”

“As recovery efforts continue, the House Oversight Committee has a responsibility to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and effectively,” Comer said. “To minimize the risk of waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars, the Oversight Committee will examine the federal government’s response in Maui and work with other committees of jurisdiction to ensure accountability.”

Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee also announced this week that the committee would be investigating the cause of the fires.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who leads the Republican-controlled House, will also be visiting Maui this weekend.

Both Tokuda and Clark said that they hoped Congress could get past political squabbling to focus on funding Maui’s needs.

“The things that would be most destructive is to take this disaster, this grief that this community, the loss they have suffered … and make it a political issue, to make some sort of political stand. That would be the very worst thing that we could do,” Clark said. “So I hope as the speaker plans to come visit — there have already been Republican members that have been on island — that they will put that sort of political squabbling behind them and focus in on what matters here, and that’s the survivors.”

Tokuda said that members of Congress “understand the absolute need for us to have disaster funding. They know that it doesn’t matter if it’s a red state or a blue state.”

“Right now our people need help,” Tokuda said. “They need shelter. They need food. Our businesses are losing money day by day unable to maintain their employees. Schools need to be able to reopen. We need to take care of the mental health, the health care of our people. So many things must happen absolutely right now. We need to focus all this concern that we have across the aisle from both Democrats and Republicans and focus it on helping the real people here on Maui.”


Original story HERE.