Maui wildfire relief fund receives over 1,000 applications

Nov. 12—Nonprofit Maui Economic Opportunity has received over 1, 000 applications for its Maui Relief TANF program, the organization said in a news release Thursday.

Nonprofit Maui Economic Opportunity has received over 1, 000 applications for its Maui Relief TANF program, the organization said in a news release Thursday.

The $100 million program, which is an offshoot of the federal government's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, launched Oct. 20. It is operated by MEO, the Department of Human Services and the Hawaii Community Foundation.

"I really have to thank the state for thinking about the need and figuring out a way to address it, " said Debbie Cabebe, MEO's chief executive officer. "I know that some people are disappointed that this is only a program for families, but that is where we're seeing some of the greatest need."

Households with at least one dependent child under 24 years old that were directly and indirectly affected by the Aug. 8 wildfires and earn less than 350 % of the poverty level are eligible for assistance. The annual income limit equates to $120, 750 for a family of four. United States citizenship is not a requirement to receive the benefits.

The program can provide qualifying families with up to $4, 000 per month for housing, plus additional money for utilities, auto down payments, clothing and school supplies for up to four months.

"In terms of general observations, the biggest immediate need is housing assistance, so we've been supporting people with mortgage assistance ... and for rental assistance, but there's still a lot of people in hotels that need longer term housing solutions, and there's not many options out there, " Cabebe said.

The program will last until the available funds are exhausted. Cabebe said that of the $100 million funds initially available, nearly $600, 000 has been obligated.

MEO encourages applicants to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance before applying to their program. FEMA, which provides federally funded assistance to individuals recovering from disasters, provides up to 18 months of rental assistance to qualified applicants. Those receiving FEMA funding cannot receive funding from the Maui Relief TANF program for the same category of need until their FEMA assistance is exhausted.

"This program is not going to make a dramatic splash in big, big numbers right away, but it's really going to help stabilize people over a longer term when some of the other immediate funding options are exhausted, " Cabebe said.

Cabebe said that the organization's contracts require a 30-day turnaround time for individuals to receive their benefits, but said some applicants have received their benefits within two weeks.

MEO is receiving a majority of its program applications online, but does see some walk-ins to their in-person office, according to Cabebe.

The program is still accepting applications online at MEO's website and in person at MEO's Wailuku office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, excluding holidays. MEO staff will also be accepting applications at the Lahaina Civic Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 21.