President Joe Biden heads for California on Thursday to visit communities devastated by storms and flooding in recent weeks and to assess first-hand the need for additional federal support for recovering residents.
Biden approved an expedited major disaster declaration at the request of California Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday, dispatching federal grants for debris removal, temporary housing and loans to cover uninsured property losses. On Wednesday, Biden increased federal assistance to cover all costs of eligible emergency measures for two months since the onset of the storms, up from the default of 75% coverage.
The wave of atmospheric rivers, which brought heavy rains, snowfall and dangerous winds and spurred landslides and flooding, have caused more than $30 billion in damages, according to an estimate from AccuWeather Inc. last week. At least 20 people have died as a result of the extreme weather in recent weeks, the governor's office said Monday.
Biden will be joined by Newsom as they meet with state and local officials during stops in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties, according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. The president last weekend made federal funding available to people living in Merced, Sacramento, and Santa Cruz counties.
On Wednesday, Newsom said the major disaster declaration had been expanded to add the Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Deanne Criswell, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, is joining Biden on the trip. More than 500 FEMA and other federal personnel have already been deployed to California to work with the state in recovery efforts, according to Jean-Pierre.
"The president has been closely monitoring the situation in California over the past several weeks, and is being regularly briefed by his homeland security team," she told reporters Wednesday. "He has remained in close touch with the governor and also officials on the ground."
State officials said California would begin to see dry weather conditions for the rest of January.
The state in recent years has endured wildfires and extreme heat that had depleted reservoirs. Officials said the rains replenished those losses in some areas but warned of high levels of runoff when mountain snowpack begins to melt later this year.
Newsom, who thanked the president for his "swift" approval of funds, has positioned himself as a potential Democratic presidential contender. But the high-profile governor has said he would not challenge Biden for the 2024 nomination.