Images of FEMA workers at luxury Maui hotels stir anger, but agency says it’s there to do a job

Pain and suffering have turned to anger for some residents after national news reports showed FEMA workers staying a luxury hotels on Maui.
Published: Aug. 23, 2023 at 10:51 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 24, 2023 at 2:00 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pain and suffering have turned to anger for some residents after national news reports showed FEMA workers staying a luxury hotels on Maui.

“FEMA booked themselves in the five-star luxury resorts,” said Fox News Host Jesse Waters in a segment on Tuesday after Daily Mail posted the photos the same day.

The photos appears to show FEMA workers relaxing in luxury resorts at the cocktail bar. Another photo shows FEMA workers on their laptops at the Fairmont Kea Lani.

The images are rubbing devastated Lahaina residents the wrong way.

Special Section: Maui Wildfires

One resident, Dustin Kaleiopu, lost his home in the Lahaina fire.

“So they’re seeing government employees or government volunteers staying in these luxury accommodations being funded by taxpayers, that’s where the frustration comes from,” he said.

FEMA spokesperson Darrell Habisch said reports of personnel staying in rooms for $1,000 a night are not true. FEMA is paying hotels the government rate of $345, he said.

“FEMA personnel and responders are not here on vacation,” said Habisch. “We’re all here for the residents of Maui and the survivors of this terrible, this terrible incident.”

“And if these larger resorts have the capacity, they’re the ones who agreed to it to say, yeah, we want to help; they want to help as much as everybody else,” said Habisch.

“So, they’re saying we will take a dramatically reduced government rate that you can get at any hotel on the island, and we’ll agree to that.”

Whatever the cost, political analyst Colin Moore said these are challenging times.

“It’s jarring to see these images of the people who are there to help stay in these luxurious surroundings and say, I understand the outrage,” said Moore. “It’s also important to remember that there’s a per diem for the amount of money that government workers can spend.”

“Obviously, alcohol isn’t part of that, you know, the amenities on a resort aren’t part of that, you know, and they’re there to do their job.”

More than 1,000 FEMA workers are on Maui, and more than 2,000 evacuees are also staying in hotels and other housing.

“FEMA personnel are not taking away hotel rooms from any survivors at all; we will move out and live in tents,” said Habisch.

“And believe me, we do that so that the available hotels are used for survivors and their families.”

FEMA says it’s dedicated to getting help to residents.

Those in need of housing should register at FEMA’s Disaster Recovery Center at UH’s Maui College or call their 24-hour hotline at 1-800-621-3362.

You can also register online.