House Republicans are investigating the Biden administration’s response to the deadly Maui fires, questioning aspects of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s handling of the catastrophe which left nearly 100 people dead and dozens missing,
Republicans on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee and the Subcommittee on Government Operations sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell on Friday asking for a detailed description of how much aid the agency has provided, plans for housing federal responders, and how Hawaiians who lost their home doing the fires are being housed.
“The deadly wildfire in Maui shocked the nation and left many, especially those directly impacted by the tragedy, with serious questions that remain unanswered today. President Biden built his entire reputation on empathy and compassion but failed to deliver an appropriate response when it mattered most. To ensure locals are receiving the assistance they need, and taxpayer dollars being used effectively, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability is taking action and seeking information from FEMA on all ongoing recovery efforts in Maui,” committee chair Rep. James Comer (R-KY) and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said in a statement.
In the letter, Comer and Sessions said that there had been reports of Hawaiians whose help was delayed because the FEMA responders lacked knowledge or authority to make decisions and red tape had slowed down the process.
“Residents expressed frustration after waiting in line for considerable periods of time only to be given a number and told to call a different FEMA official. In other instances, they had been instructed to provide certain documentation, only to be told still more information would be required in order to receive benefits. We appreciate and share the desire to protect taxpayer interests, but we also encourage FEMA to streamline processes to the extent possible,” the lawmakers said.
The lawmakers also asked Chriswell to respond to reports of FEMA employees staying in luxury hotels, asking for FEMA to give context for why house federal employees were housed. FEMA has previously responded by saying that the hotels in question had wanted to help and that the government workers needed somewhere to say while on the island.
While initial reports indicated that the fires had claimed the lives of 115 people with hundreds missing, the numbers were just revised to show that 97 people were killed and only 31 people reported missing.
“That number dropped a little bit because the Department of Defense and all of their physical anthropologists were able to help us discern better who was in cars or in houses,” Governor Josh Green (D-HI) said. “So thank God, fewer people have passed away.”
Federal and state officials have been criticized for their response to the fires, which was the deadliest series of fires in years. President Joe Biden’s public response when asked about the fires was “no comment.”