Psaki says Biden won’t visit Miami-area building collapse and supports an investigation

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, June 28, 2021.

  • Biden does not plan to travel to the area of the Florida building collapse, Psaki said.
  • The trip would divert local resources away from ongoing rescue efforts, she added.
  • The White House has sent federal assistance to state and local officials.
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President Joe Biden doesn’t plan to visit the area of a collapsed Florida building as the trip would divert local resources away from ongoing rescue efforts, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

“We always want to ensure that we’re not pulling from local resources. We don’t want to draw resources that are needed in the ongoing search and rescue operations and efforts,” Psaki told reporters during a news conference on Monday. “We will remain in close contact with officials on the ground.”

The White House has provided state and local officials with federal assistance to help respond to last Thursday’s partial collapse of a 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida, just outside of Miami.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and US Army Corps of Engineers have deployed teams to assist with search and rescue operations, incident management and debris removal, Psaki said. FEMA is also coordinating with state and local officials to open a family assistance center and provide communications support, she continued.

Psaki reiterated that FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell traveled to the state to meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis and briefed Biden on the scene. The president on Sunday said the update was “excruciating” to hear and that his administration is ready to provide any necessary relief.

“This is an unimaginably difficult time for the families enduring this tragedy,” Biden said. “For those who are waiting in anguish for word of their loved ones as search and rescue efforts continue in the aftermath of this catastrophic incident, the pain of the uncertainty is an added, heartbreaking burden. My heart goes out to every single person suffering during this awful moment.”

Psaki also said that Biden supports an investigation into the partial collapse of the 40-year-old condo building, which has left at least 10 people dead, as of Monday afternoon. Over 150 people remain missing.

“The goal of course is to get to the bottom of what happened and of course have it be an instructive guide of how to prevent it from happening in the future,” Psaki said.

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Biden approved an emergency declaration in Florida, allowing FEMA to coordinate disaster relief for the Miami building collapse

Rubble hangs from a partially collapsed building in Surfside, north of Miami Beach.
Rubble hangs from the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, on June 24, 2021.

  • President Joe Biden has signed an emergency declaration for Florida after a building collapsed there on Thursday.
  • The declaration will allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief.
  • Nearly 100 people are still unaccounted for after the Florida condo collapsed in the wee hours of Thursday.
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President Joe Biden has signed an emergency declaration for the state of Florida, which will allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts after a section of a Miami Beach condo caved in.

A large section of Champlain Towers South, a Miami Beach property that was built in 1981, crumbled at around 1.30 a.m. on Thursday, leaving at least one person dead and nearly 99 more unaccounted for. Many are feared dead, reported the AP on Thursday.

“The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, to coordinate all disaster relief efforts,” the White House said on Friday.

Resources will also be provided for emergency measures to “save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Miami-Dade County,” read the declaration, which was released in the early hours of Friday.

A massive search-and-rescue operation is currently underway.

Floridian firefighters tunneling under the partially caved-in condominium in hopes of finding people in the wreckage on Thursday heard banging noises. Sonar devices used by the Miami-Dade fire department also picked up sounds within the rubble, said Miami-Dade’s assistant fire chief, Ray Jadallah.

While it is still unclear why the section of the building suddenly collapsed, a study in 2020 showed that the land around the condo showed signs of sinking. The New York Times also reported that the condo was due for corrosion repairs to fix steel and concrete structures that were rusted through or in disrepair.

Investigations into the cause of the collapse are underway, noted the Washington Post.

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FEMA receives more than 130,000 applications for COVID-19 funeral assistance

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FEMA said Friday that more than 130,000 Americans have applied for coronavirus funeral assistance.

  • More than 130,000 Americans have applied for COVID-19 funeral assistance, FEMA said Friday.
  • Americans who lost loved ones to the coronavirus can receive up to $35,500.
  • The aid money was included in Democrats’ $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
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In less than two weeks, more than 130,000 Americans have already applied for COVID-19 funeral assistance from the US government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday.

Under a program included in Democrats’ $1.9 trillion stimulus package, people who lost a loved one to the coronavirus are eligible to receive up to $9,000 in reimbursement for the costs of burying or cremating them. Each applicant is eligible to receive up to $35,500 in total.

According to FEMA, over $16,000 has been dispersed, as of April 22.

The agency began processing applications by phone – (844) 684-6333 – on April 12. Those seeking reimbursement must provide a copy of an official death certificate and any related receipts. Covered expenses include the cost of transferring remains, the purchase of a casket or urn, as well as clergy or other funeral services.

More than 571,000 people in the US have now died from the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

There is no cap on how much money FEMA will ultimately disperse and no deadline to apply.

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FEMA inundated with calls from people seeking up to $9,000 in funeral assistance for the death of a loved one with COVID-19

US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during a news conference to announce FEMA will help pay for the funeral and burial of COVID-hit families during the coronavirus disease pandemic in the Queens borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 12, 2021.

  • FEMA this week began accepting applications for COVID-19 funeral assistance.
  • The agency is providing up to $9,000 per funeral and up to $35,500 per applicant.
  • The aid was sought by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and other Democrats.
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Thousands of people are ringing every hour to obtain federal aid for the cost of burying a loved one who died from COVID-19.

On Monday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it was now beginning to process applications for $2 billion in funeral assistance made possible by the $1.9 stimulus packaged passed by congressional Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden last month.

The inclusion of the aid was made possible thanks to a push led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

At a joint press conference on Monday, the two Democrats urged people to call FEMA if they paid for any COVID-related funeral expenses in the past year – anything from the cost of a casket to the funeral ceremony itself.

“The phone number is run by people who are understanding, compassionate, and speak multiple languages,” Schumer said, per the New York Daily News.

The New York lawmakers initially requested the aid in April 2020, when New York City was first slammed by the coronavirus.

“As the tragic number of deaths from COVID-19 continues to rise in New York, individuals who are facing incredible loss are also being saddled with an additional financial burden,” they wrote in a letter to FEMA.

Over 500,000 people in the US have died from the coronavirus since that letter was sent.

Here’s how to apply

FEMA is only accepting applications by phone, a process that has overwhelmed the agency. On Monday alone, it received over a million inquiries, Ocasio-Cortez announced on Twitter.

FEMA declined to provide the latest tally. But when Insider called the hotline (844-684-6333) Tuesday afternoon, more than 2,900 people were ahead in the queue.

The funeral assistance program is open to anyone, regardless of income, who paid a funeral expense associated with a coronavirus death in the US; the deceased need not be a US citizen, but applicants must provide proof of their legal status.

Specifically, FEMA is requesting that applicants provide both their own Social Security number and that of the person or persons who died, saying that while that information is not mandatory it will speed up the disbursement of funds.

Applicants must also provide a copy of an official death certificate; receipts indicating funeral expenses and the dates they were incurred; any applicable funeral insurance information; current annual household income; as well as a phone number and current address.

A person may receive up to $9,000 per funeral and up to $35,500 in total, the money sent either by check or direct deposit, depending on the applicant’s preference.

FEMA says the phone call should take about 20 minutes. There is no deadline to apply.

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The Biden administration is mobilizing FEMA amid record numbers of migrant children and teens at the border

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Central American asylum seekers arrive to a bus station after being released by U.S. Border Patrol agents on February 26, 2021 in Brownsville, Texas.

  • The Biden administration mobilized FEMA for 90 days to assist with migrant children at the border.
  • Record numbers of unaccompanied minor children have recently arrived at the US-Mexico border.
  • The children have reportedly been suffering overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
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The Biden administration on Saturday evening mobilized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to a major influx of migrant children arriving at the US-Mexico border.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that FEMA will be assisting in “a government-wide effort over the next 90 days to safely receive, shelter, and transfer unaccompanied children who make the dangerous journey to the US southwest border.”

Data from the Customs and Border Protection agency show a skyrocketing rate of apprehensions at the US-Mexico border in recent months, similar to the numbers in 2019 when hundreds of thousands of migrant families journeyed to the US from Central America, seeking asylum.

In February, CBP recorded a whopping 100,441 apprehensions at the border, most of them either unaccompanied minors or members of families that had traveled together.

The numbers of migrants arriving in the US vastly outstrip CBP’s resources – particularly when it comes to detaining and processing children. Typically, unaccompanied children at the border are first processed by CBP officials, then sent to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services, which places the children with relatives or other sponsors while their immigration cases are processed through the court system.

But both CBP and HHS are struggling to make space for the children. One recent New York Times report revealed that under the Biden administration, border officials had detained more than 1,360 migrant children longer than the mandatory 72-hour limit permitted by US law.

migrant children us-mexico border
Central American asylum seekers arrive to a bus station while being released by U.S. Border Patrol agents on February 26, 2021 in Brownsville, Texas.

President Joe Biden has vowed to set a new tone with his immigration agenda and rid the federal government of the Trump administration’s “cruel and senseless policies” toward migrant children. But already, a number of reports have documented similar instances of severe overcrowding, and unsanitary and inhumane conditions.

Several nonprofit lawyers who visited a Border Patrol tent facility in Texas found children packed together and sleeping on the floor due to the lack of mats. The lawyers said some children had to wait five or more days for a shower, often without any soap available.

Their observations echoed similar reports during the Trump era, in which migrant children endured inedible food, undrinkable water, open toilets, exposure to illnesses, and no soap, toothbrushes, or showers to clean themselves. Some were detained in tents, others in freezing cold Border Patrol facilities, and others still in open-air enclosures in parking lots. Several children even died in Border Patrol custody.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas noted in a statement on Saturday that “a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child.”

He continued: “We are working in partnership with [the Department of Health and Human Services] to address the needs of unaccompanied children, which is made only more difficult given the protocols and restrictions required to protect the public health and the health of the children themselves.”

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Biden declares Texas a major disaster after winter storms devastated the state

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Volunteers load cases of water into the bed of a truck during a mass water distribution at Delmar Stadium on February 19, 2021.

  • President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in the state of Texas, The White House announced.
  • The declaration will make available federal funding to residents of dozens of Texas counties.
  • Winter storms that began February 11 have devastated Texas, causing power and water outages.
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The White House on Saturday announced President Joe Biden had declared a major disaster in the state of Texas following a series of unusual winter storms this month that left millions of Texans without electricity or clean water. 

The declaration allows individuals in dozens of counties impacted by the weather to apply for federal funding, which the White House noted Saturday includes grants for temporary housing, funds for home repairs, and “low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses” amid other programs to assist Texans impacted by the storms.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Texas residents can begin to apply for assistance online or by calling a hotline for assistance. 

Winter storms that brought frigid temperatures, snow, and ice to cities across the state of Texas have left dozens of people dead, and experts fear the actual toll is much higher, the Texas Tribune reported.

While power has since been restored to most people in Texas, millions spent hours and days without it as the storm caused outages and forced power companies to institute rolling blackouts to prevent wider uncontrolled outages. Millions in the state remained without clean drinking water and were asked to boil their water, according to the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, after power outages impacted water treatment facilities.

The declaration will also offer federal funds to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations “on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures and hazard mitigation measures statewide,” the White House said in its Sunday statement.

According to the Associated Press, Biden said Friday he hoped to visit Texas next week but was mulling over whether his visit would be a distraction from the state’s attempts at recovery. He said he’d make a decision on travel next week. 

“They’re working like the devil to take care of their folks,” Biden said.

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