Biden slammed for offering ‘insulting’ $700 payments to Maui wildfire victims

Emergency payments to Maui wildfire victims part of a ‘whole-of-government response effort’, White House says

Bevan Hurley
Wednesday 16 August 2023 05:41 EDT
Lahaina residents inspect remains of homes after devastating Maui wildfire

President Joe Biden’s offer of a $700 emergency payment to households impacted by the devastating Maui wildfires has been criticised as an insult to survivors.

The death toll from the US’s deadliest wildfires in more than 100 years rose to 106 on Wednesday, with hundreds still unaccounted for, thousands left homeless and an estimated $7bn in economic damage.

Mr Biden, who has faced criticism for his handling of the disaster, announced an economic relief package on Monday that included cash payments and temporary housing assistance for survivors.

“We're laser-focused on getting aid to survivors, including Critical Needs Assistance: a one-time $700 payment per household offering relief during an unimaginably difficult time.

“We have staff on the ground dedicated to helping survivors navigate the registration process,” Mr Biden added.

A White House statement confirmed the offer was only available to residents who were displaced from their homes and had critical needs.

With 1,200 families sheltering in emergency shelters over the weekend, and 2,200 buildings destroyed, it’s not clear how many Hawaiians will be eligible.

It was immediately decried as too small to have a meaningful impact by some commentators.

“Make it $700 a month. Per family member in a household. For a minimum of two years,” wrote Scott Santens, the director of the ITSA Foundation which backs universal basic income, on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“A one time $700 payment will definitely get their lives, houses and property back! Great job Biden,” another user wrote.

Many compared the offer unfavourably to the $113bn in aid the Biden administration has sent to Ukraine since February 2022 to support the war effort, with a further $200m approved on Monday.

Financial commentator Mark Wlosinski wrote on X estimated the $700 offer would amount to $1.9m, and labelled it “insulting”.

“Can someone please explain how our government can send hundreds of billions to other countries, but chooses to pinch pennies when our own people are in need? An entire town on US soil has been destroyed overnight, and the best our government can do is $700?”

Actor Rob Schneider, an outspoken anti-vaxxer and Trump supporter, wrote on X: “The ($115bn) US TAX PAYER DOLLARS TO UKRAINE… $1.9 million dollars to American Maui fire victims. Biden hates Americans…”

Right-wing commentator Colin Rugg wrote: “Can someone please explain to me why our leaders are so reckless with money sent to Ukraine but then pinch pennies when the money is spent on Americans?”

Mr Biden has faced criticism for his response to the Maui fires from his political opponents.

President Joe Biden waves to members of the media as he walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on 11 August

He appeared to brush off a White House pool reporter reporter’s questions when asked for a comment on the rising death toll over the weekend.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre addressed the snub on Monday, saying that Mr Biden remained “deeply concerned” about the wildfires.

The newly-indicted former President Donald Trump seized on Mr Biden's apparent no comment, claiming the Democrat “refuses to help or comment on the tragedy”.

On 9 August, Mr Biden offered his “deepest condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones in the wildfires in Maui” in a statement as the first fatalities were confirmed.

The next day he declared a federal disaster in the state, freeing up federal funds to provide grants for temporary housing and home repairs, and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

Mr Biden made brief remarks during a trip to Salt Lake City last week in his only public comments so far about the unfolding tragedy.

“Anyone who's lost a loved one, whose home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately,” he said.

The White House has since touted its “whole-of-government response effort”, which included deploying 500 federal personnel and thousands of meals, beds and litters of water.

The Democratic Hawaii governor Josh Green has publicly praised Mr Biden’s response to the disaster.

The Independent has approached the White House for comment.

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