President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Thursday to fully reimburse Hawaii and other states for the cost of National Guard operations to support COVID-19 response operations.

His predecessor’s administration had promised to pay 75% of the costs for keeping the National Guard active until the end of March. Biden’s order authorized a 100% federal reimbursement rate until Sept. 31.

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz welcomed the decision.

“This will save Hawaii millions of dollars and allow soldiers and airmen who are performing essential missions that will help us safely reopen our economy, including vaccine distribution and contact tracing, to continue their work without interruption,” Schatz said Thursday in a press release.

Hawaii Army National Guard members assist with free COVID-19 testing held at the Waikiki Shell. October 16, 2020
President Joe Biden has agreed to reimburse the National Guard for 100% of the costs of COVID-19 operations. In this photo, Hawaii National Guardsmen assist with free testing in Waikiki on Oct. 16, 2020. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Guardsmen have been front-line responders taking on a wide range of roles assisting various state agencies, including checking temperatures and other COVID-19 screening of new arrivals at airports, and working as data analysts and contact tracers at the state Department of Health.

They also played a key role in a mass drive-thru COVID-19 testing effort on the H-3 federal highway in September and have conducted testing and educational outreach and food deliveries at schools, businesses and in low-income neighborhoods.

The Hawaii National Guard currently has a task force of about 800 soldiers and airmen deployed across the islands assisting with pandemic response.

This comes in addition to their other wide-ranging responsibilities, to be ready for other disasters and deployments at a moment’s notice.

The Hawaii National Guard recently deployed 200 troops to Washington, D.C., for Wednesday’s presidential inauguration — including some that had been deployed to Afghanistan less than a year ago.

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