SALT LAKE CITY, Utah—President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he has signed a major disaster declaration for Hawaii.
The declaration adds to the emergency response efforts already underway by FEMA, the National Guard, the United States Coast Guard, and other government agencies.
At least 36 people have been confirmed dead in wildfires on Hawaii’s Maui Island, officials confirmed.
“Anyone who has lost a loved one, whose home has been damaged or destroyed is going to get help immediately,” President Biden said during a speech in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The president stated he had a lengthy phone conversation with Hawaii’s governor, Josh Green, regarding the wildfires on Maui.
“I let him know that I’m going to make sure the state has everything it needs,” President Biden said.
According to the declaration, federal assistance may include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the disaster.
The wildfires caught the island off guard. The flames were fueled by strong winds from Hurricane Dora when it passed far south of the state and were aggravated by dry weather. They devoured whole neighborhoods, leaving behind piles of rubble and burning cars on major roadways.
The historic town of Lahaina, the island’s main tourist destination, was almost completely burned to the ground, with 271 structures impacted or destroyed, according to local officials.
“We’re working as quickly as possible to fight these fires and evacuate residents and tourists,” President Biden said.
President Biden Addresses Veterans
The president made his comments while on a trip to Utah. He concluded a three-state tour in the southwest on Thursday with a visit to Salt Lake City.
President Biden spoke to veterans and their families to mark the one-year anniversary of his signing into law the PACT Act, which aims to improve health care and benefits for veterans and their survivors.
Speaking at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City, the president said that the law provided health care and benefits to more than 340,000 veterans and survivors.
“Veterans are getting better, they’re getting the care they deserve in every corner of the country,” President Biden said. “Thank you all—Democrats, Republicans, independents—for your work to get this bill on my desk and to get it signed.”
Named in honor of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, who died from a rare form of lung cancer in 2020, the measure “is the most significant expansion of benefits and services for toxic-exposed veterans in more than 30 years,” according to the White House.
The law aims to address health issues like asthma and cancer caused by military environmental exposures, such as burn pits, and ensure that veterans receive necessary health care.
According to the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid more than $1.85 billion in PACT Act-related benefits to veterans and their families. In addition, the VA has increased its workforce and is now processing PACT Act claims “at the fastest rate in history.”
Under the PACT Act, the VA has also provided free screenings for toxic exposures to over 4.1 million veterans.
Republican Gov. Cox Welcomes Presidential Visit
Utah Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, also attended the event.
Prior to President Biden’s address, the governor welcomed him to Utah, calling his visit an “amazing opportunity.”
“There has been some question over whether or not the governor of the state of Utah would welcome a president of a different party. I think it’s insane that we are having those conversations in our country today,” Gov. Cox stated, to applause.
“I so appreciate my blue state partners, governors who welcomed President Trump, and we welcome President Biden here. We honor this office of the presidency. When the president succeeds, America succeeds, and we want to find ways to work together.”