Sen. Brian Schatz said he expects millions in disaster relief coming soon

Tens of millions of dollars in federal disaster relief are headed Hawaii’s way in the wake of several natural disasters across the state, with potentially much more to come.

The U.S. House of Representatives moved legislation Wednesday that would create $1.7 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding to help dozens of local communities bounce back from natural disasters that have occurred this year.

“This funding is essential to communities like ours that have been challenged in so many ways, with very limited resources to help with relief, recovery, and rebuilding,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who voted in favor of the legislation. “Despite all of our challenges, the strength and resilience we continue to see from the people in our communities is inspiring, as neighbors help neighbors, share their aloha, and pull together to recover from devastation.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a conference call Wednesday that he expects the legislation to breeze through the Senate, adding he’s already begun collaborating with agencies and officials at all levels of government on the applications counties will ultimately submit to ensure each “maximizes the federal revenue coming in.”

“The good news about this money is that it’s extremely flexible for our counties to use as they see fit,” Schatz said. “And Hawaii will, in this down payment, receive tens of millions of dollars in these grants.”

CDBG-DR grants typically go directly to the counties, which can use the funding as they see fit.

That could mean repairing roads, investing in revamping agriculture or rebuilding schools, depending on local officials’ determinations of the greatest areas of need, Schatz said. Kua O Ka La Public Charter School in Puna, for instance, was swallowed by lava during the eruption.

Schatz added he couldn’t pin down precise amounts each county might procure, as those will depend on the applications. To date, the state has received $120 million in federal disaster relief, with $56 million of that landing on the Big Island while Kauai and Oahu were collectively granted $64 million.

Schatz said the passage of the current disaster relief legislation is a harbinger for larger sums to come.

“It indicates Congress is leaning toward doing what they call a disaster supplemental, which will be much more than $1.7 billion and will result in much more than tens of millions of dollars for the state of Hawaii,” he explained.

As to when the CDBG-DR funds might arrive in county coffers wasn’t something Schatz could pin down. But it will be a matter of months, not years.

“I don’t think we can give you a precise timeline,” he said. “Of course, we have to enact this thing into law first, but my judgment is that it’ll be between … 90-180 days for the data collection. Then, shortly after, that the money should be moved to the counties once they set their formulas and move it out.”

Nothing precludes any counties from moving more quickly through the application process than the time frames allotted, he added.

By Max Dible West Hawaii Today mdible@westhawaiitoday.com

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