In the News

Gov. David Ige and Hawaii Appleseed’s Gavin Thorton join the COVID-19 Care Conversation

Honolulu Star-Advertiser·

Gov. David Ige and Hawaii Appleseed Executive Director Gavin Thorton joined us today for a Q&A video on the COVID-19 Care Conversation.

The COVID-19 Care Conversation, sponsored by Hawai’i Executive Collaborative and Hawaii Pacific Health, airs live every weekday at 10:30 a.m. on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook page. Yunji de Nies and Ryan Kalei Tsuji discuss the latest news, resources and community concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in Hawaii.

We have a chance to build a more equitable, resilient Hawaii

Honolulu Star-Advertiser·

When we think about the future of Hawaii we want to build — the near-term, post-pandemic recovery, as well as the long-term future our children and grandchildren will inherit — what does it look like?

Will we enjoy an innovation-driven economy where everyone can find well-paying jobs that sustain a healthy life with good, locally produced food, and homes that are safe and affordable?

Will we have the social infrastructure necessary to build strong communities where we support one another, shop at small businesses built by homegrown entrepreneurs, and solve problems with the collective wisdom and rich, diverse perspectives Hawaii’s people have to offer?

Will we return to the foundations laid by kanaka maoli, using our natural resources sustainably, allowing Hawaii’s people and future generations to thrive?

If this is indeed the future we seek, we must align our personal, professional and political decisions with the principles and values to which we aspire. To build a vibrant community, we must commit to a serious shift in the way we do business and run our government.

Fortunately, our community has the knowledge and skills to address Hawaii’s current and systemic economic challenges. In June, we invited nonprofits, businesses and individuals who have signed on to the Uplift Hawai‘i principles to nominate projects and programs that are already doing uplifting work. These are initiatives that we can invest in right now to build a better future—using CARES Act funding, along with our local private and philanthropic resources.

Nominated projects include the creation of a Hawaii civilian conservation corps to help unemployed residents work with organizations engaged in restoring native forests and trails, maintaining parks and campgrounds, and building community-serving infrastructure. This program would develop and train a new workforce while addressing long-standing community needs and aspirations.

Another nominee is WAI: Wastewater Alternatives & Innovations, which helps homeowners and communities reduce wastewater discharge by upgrading antiquated cesspools with affordable, eco-friendly solutions to wastewater management. This is an example of addressing a pressing need in our community while diversifying our economy and improving the well-being of our residents and islands.

Other suggestions include investing in a new paradigm of community centers that serve as a place of gathering, education and services that uplift the people and communities they are a part of, following the lead of organizations like Key Project, Kokua Kalihi Valley and Kula No Na Po‘e Hawai‘i. The resiliency they’ve created in their communities, demonstrated through their quick, effective responses to the pandemic by connecting people with the resources they need, is a model for building social infrastructure in Hawaii.

These are just a few examples of the many organizations that give us hope. We know that our lawmakers will have to make some tough decisions during this short legislative session about how to best deploy our economic recovery funding, and that our business and philanthropic community is navigating a challenging environment and facing many calls for help. Through it all, we hope our civic leaders will respect the community-sourced guiding principles articulated by Uplift Hawai‘i, ‘Aina Aloha Economic Futures Declaration and other related efforts, and align their policies and actions with the needs and aspirations of the community.

Rebuilding Hawaii’s economy will take an effort unlike any we have yet undertaken. Although the pandemic has brought tremendous hardship, it has also given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to usher in the kind of change that normally takes decades to enact. Together, we can bring about a more equitable and resilient future that honors the people, land, culture, and values of Hawaii.

COVID-19 Budget Moves Out For Passage, But Not Without Controversy

Hawaii Public Radio·

Hawaii lawmakers have agreed to a plan to set aside millions in CARES Act funds to cover some of the benefits that unemployed workers will lose at the end of July. It’s just one item in a budget proposal to use $635 million in federal assistance to address a range of coronavirus-related issues, and jump start the economy.

The state Legislature reconvened Monday under locked down conditions that prevents the public from attending the sessions in person because of COVID-19.

The main order of business: appropriate the over half a billion dollars that have flowed from Washington, D.C., to help the state deal with the ongoing pandemic.

A House and Senate conference committee agreed yesterday to advance the spending plan, with minimum discussion, to the floors of both chambers where votes are expected on Friday.

Among the major proposals is a $230 million allocation to help out-of-work employees. Many have been getting $600 weekly in extra unemployment insurance payments, known as $600 Plus-Up, but the additional amount is ending on July 31.

The conference committee agreed to provide $100 a week to cover some of what will be lost.

“We anticipate this affecting 117,000 recipients. So when the $600 Plus-Up ends, they’ll at least get $100 per week, in addition to their UI benefit,” said Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Other items in the proposed amended state budget include $90 million for thermal screening and facial recognition cameras at the airport and $100 million to subsidize the rents of eligible households hit hard by the pandemic.

Other appropriations would provide $100 million to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency for sanitation and personal protective equipment for essential employees, including those that work at child care centers, elderly care homes, small businesses and schools and nonprofits that work with vulnerable populations.

Other expenditures aim to help rebuild the economy: $30 million for workforce training and job placement; $15 million to help local manufacturers produce hand sanitizers, PPE and other products needed to deal with the pandemic; and $15 million for child care facilities to help with PPE and social distancing measures.

Certain businesses will also receive allocations, including $3 million for the fishing industry and $19 million for the Maui Health System that runs Maui Memorial Medical Center, location of a major outbreak of the coronavirus earlier in the year.

The allocations of the federal aid money drew criticism from social service agencies while the process of adopting the budget measure, using a method called gut-and-replace, riled others.

“Families could’ve used more help with food and many have lost their health insurance — the current bill doesn’t address these needs,” said Deborah Zysman, executive director of Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network in a statement. “Our kūpuna remain vulnerable, and many immigrants still havenʻt received any government support.”

The lawmakers took a bill that had already gone through the public hearing process, Senate Bill 126, then replaced the text with the CARES Act expenditures, critics said. By doing this, the bill did not get the usual public hearing review.

“If we are going to successfully face Hawaiʻi’s complex challenges, we need all of Hawaiʻi’s people contributing to the solutions,” said Gavin Thornton, executive director of the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. “Our strength is our people. A process like this, which excludes our people, is a recipe for failure.”

State must help provide food security

Honolulu Star-Advertiser·

One-and-a-quarter billion dollars. That’s how much Hawaii received from the federal CARES Act to respond to the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.

This week, the Hawaii Legislature reconvenes to decide the fate of $635 million from this CARES Act pot. In a proposal announced on Friday, the Legislature laid out a plan to spend these funds. The bulk of the money would go toward unemployment insurance, rental assistance and support for certain small businesses.

The plan also calls for $5 million in food assistance to support families, run through the state’s Executive Office on Aging. While this is a start, it falls short of the $40 million in estimated need projected by the Working Families Coalition, which would include support for both families and for farmers to meet the need locally.

It cannot be overstated: The need for food is immense. The incredible spike in need has crippled Hawaii’s supply chains and overwhelmed our emergency food networks.

In a cruel paradox, it is Hawaii’s rural communities — those that produce our food — that are suffering the most. On Hawaii island, nearly a quarter of the workforce is now unemployed, and it’s not whom you might expect: farm vans are lining up for food right alongside hospitality industry vehicles. In fact, The Food Basket (Hawaii island’s Food Bank) has seen triple the volume of individuals seeking food assistance, and 75-85% of its clientele are now “first-time food bank users.”

Kupuna are also particularly affected. Lanakila Meals on Wheels has seen an increase of over 30% in the number of seniors fed through its home-delivered meal service. In total, kupuna-serving organizations have provided nearly 28,000 meals to 5,000 seniors a week on Oahu alone, according to numbers compiled by the Kupuna Food Security Coalition.

The good news is that managing the unprecedented deluge has led to a great deal of innovation.

“The key,” says Rona Fukumoto, Lanakila’s president, “is to directly link with local farms to establish a win-win relationship — one where we can purchase produce at an affordable price, while creating a reasonable profit for farmers.”

Similarly, The Food Basket has quickly pivoted its pandemic response — bolstering its already comprehensive repertoire of programs by expanding its supply chain sources. It now sources food from over 100 farmers, ranchers and fisherman, and partners with local restaurants and distributors to produce ready-to-eat frozen meals for emergency food distributions.

Absent any meaningful support from the state since the start of the pandemic, Hawaii philanthropists have stepped up in a big way. But the truth is, we can’t rely on charity forever. We need institutional support — in the form of federal stimulus funds and ongoing support from the state — in order to stabilize the situation. That’s why programs that leverage federal dollars are the cornerstone of the Hawaii Farm to Family CARES Act proposal.

This crisis has shattered life as we know it. Once we swing past it, it may be hard to remember what life was like before. “World War II brought us SPAM,” says Hunter Heaivilin, food resilience coordinator at the Hawaii Public Health Institute. “What will COVID-19’s legacy be for Hawaii’s food system?”

As the Legislature reconvenes to decide the fate of these funds, it should know: People need food now. It may be our once-in-a-lifetime chance to pivot toward the kind of food system we want for Hawaii’s future.

Social service workers rally at state Capitol

Honolulu Star-Advertiser·

As the state Legislature reconvened Monday, social service workers rallied at the Capitol asking lawmakers to allocate $362 million of the federal coronavirus relief funds to “vulnerable” families, who need food, housing assistance, health care, child care, domestic violence assistance, kupuna wellness checks and more.

The rally drew about 30 people waving signs that read, ”Use CARES funds for kama‘aina (local people). It’s your kuleana (responsibility),” and, “Use CARES money to malama (care for) Hawaii’s families. Today is a rainy day.”

“Our main message to the Legislature is to get the money out quickly, as directly as possible, to people who need it the most,” Deborah Zysman, executive director of Hawaii Children’s Action Network, said. “We have high unemployment. Many families with kids said they’re food- unstable, which means you don’t know where you’re going to get your food next.”

About 59% of Hawaii households will struggle to make ends meet by the end of this year, according to Aloha United Way.

Recently, lawmakers said that they will spend $635 million of the CARES Act funding to assist the unemployed and local businesses — adding $100 per week to weekly jobless benefits — but advocates said it’s still not enough.

Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst of Hawaii Appleseed, said not everyone qualified for unemployment insurance.

“Immigrants who did not have work papers cannot get unemployment insurance,” she said. “So all these plans to bump up unemployment insurance never helped them. Also, those federal stimulus checks would not allow anyone without a Social Security number to get it.”

The Working Families Coalition earlier this week released a comprehensive plan on how the human services organizations would spend the money, and about $12 million would go toward funding immigration assistance.

About $80 million would go to social services, $115 million to health care and $155 million to basic needs, which include support for food banks, food rescue organizations, food hubs and rent and mortgage assistance.

Due to COVID-19, some human service programs have been closed or altered to fit health safety regulations.

Hale o Honolulu — an adult mental health program under Honolulu Clubhouse — has been closed since March 18.

Club Member Thelma Au, 51, worked at Honolulu Clubhouse since 2005. While getting emotional, she said she still wants to help people with mental illness despite the physical distance.

“Without this there’s no help for people out there,” she said. ” When I was young we never had all of this. Now we have mental health awareness. Without the support we don’t have nothing.”

Extra help urged for Hawaii renters who face eviction due to COVID-19 pandemic

Honolulu Star-Advertiser·

When Hawaii’s United Way agencies held a $1.25 million housing assistance program for renters in late March and early April, the effort reached its maximum number of referrals in just three weeks.

A similar program underwritten by federal COVID-19 relief funds and administered by Aloha United Way on Oahu last month also drew a huge surge in interest.

“The number of applicants just poured in,” said Lisa Kimura, UAW vice president of community impact.

As bad as it is for renters now, it’s likely to get worse in the coming months and especially after the $600 federal boost to unemployment benefits expires at the end of July. The situation is prompting some to predict an avalanche of rental evictions.

That’s why more than 50 of Hawaii’s nonprofits and social service agencies, and as many individuals, are urging state leaders to enact widespread protections for renters, including extending the prohibition on evictions for months after the pandemic is over in an effort to avoid mass evictions across the islands.

“Many people were in trouble even before the pandemic hit,” said Gavin Thornton, executive director of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. “The likelihood the problem is going to increase is significant.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that close to 20% of Hawaii’s households have either been unable to pay their housing payment or have “slight or no confidence that their household can pay next month’s rent or mortgage on time.”

And, according to an analysis by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization and the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center, between 40,000 and 45,000 renter households will be unemployed by July 31, will lose their $600 federal bump and will not be receiving other rental assistance.

Some 21,500 of these renter households will be at risk of losing their housing because the portion of their income earmarked for housing will rise by 10% or more, the analysis said, while 7,500 of these renter households will be at extreme risk of losing their housing because the portion of their income going to housing will jump by 30% or more.

The coalition of nonprofits and agencies, among them the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, is urging the state Legislature to address the impending rental crisis when lawmakers convene starting Monday.

In a letter to Gov. David Ige, Senate President Ron Kouchi, House Speaker Scott Saiki and Rodney Maile, administrative director of the courts, the coalition is urging the adoption of at least five policies to prevent mass evictions of renters due to the economic crisis created by the pandemic.

In his latest COVID-19 emergency proclamation, Ige extended a moratorium on evictions to the end of July, an action that offers relief for tenants fearing eviction due to unpaid rent.

But it’s not enough, according to coalition leaders. Lawmakers must plan for a legion of tenants and families racking up housing debt during the pandemic and who will be unlikely to pay off the debt for months even after the economy fully reopens and they are able to work again, the letter said.

“It’s a pretty dire situation for renters,” said Wayne Tanaka, interim public policy manager at OHA.

Tanaka said a greater percentage of Native Hawaiians are renters and are more likely to be impacted by the problem.

Kahiau, OHA’s Emergency Financial Assistance Program administered by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, is reporting a 250% increase in inquiries to the program since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Tanaka said he’s hearing reports that a lot of people don’t know how they’re going to pay their rent, and some are receiving eviction notices even though that’s not permitted under the current moratorium.

Robert Manning is one of them. The Wahiawa resident, a cook, and his wife, a bus driver, lost all of their income after the coronavirus pandemic struck, leaving them unable to pay their $1,200 monthly rent.

Manning received an eviction notice, but he was able to hold off his landlord after obtaining enough funds from an emergency housing assistance program funded by OHA.

“But I’m still two months back on my rent,” he said. “I worry every day about how I’m going to pay.”

In its letter, the coalition recommends five policies that would largely minimize the threat of mass evictions “and resulting mass houselessness that would otherwise persist well after the end of the pandemic’s threat to our public health.” The five policies are:

>> An extended eviction moratorium that would continue as the economy recovers, allowing tenants to generate the income necessary to pay off any housing-related debt linked to the pandemic.

>> A landlord subsidy program, using state or federal (CARES Act) funds, to cover up to 20% of monthly rent for tenants affected by the pandemic that would be available to landlords who agree to reduce rent by 20% and refrain from evictions for six months after the expiration of any eviction moratorium. For example, for a base rent of $1,000, the tenant would cover $600, the subsidy would cover $200, and the landlord’s rent reduction would cover $200.

>> A tax credit or deduction for landlords based on reductions in rent provided to their tenants.

>> A mandatory mediation process to encourage landlords and tenants to come to a mutually agreeable resolution of landlord-tenant disputes.

>> An expungement of eviction records if the eviction action was based in part on back rent or late fees accrued during the pandemic.

According to an analysis by UHERO, as much as $117 million in rental assistance will be needed to help renters over the next six months.

A subcommittee of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness is already proposing a Housing Relief and Resilience Fund underwritten by federal funds to assist lower-income renters who lost income because of the pandemic.

According to the plan, tenants who apply for help would agree to pay the same portion of their incomes for rent as they did before the pandemic. They also would agree to receive financial counseling and would receive mediation or legal support to take care of any delinquent rent issues.

The plan also calls for negotiation with landlords to persuade them to discount rents over the next six months. The housing relief fund would then make up the difference between what the tenants would be required to pay and the discounted rent agreed to by landlords.

Elsewhere, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, which administers about 6,200 federal and state low-income public housing units on five islands, announced Friday that it has waived minimum rents and late fees linked to pandemic-related income loss.

Nonprofits urge lawmakers to quickly commit federal funds to cope with social needs

Honolulu Star-Advertiser·

With the state Legislature poised to meet again in less than a week, Hawaii’s nonprofit social service agencies are urging lawmakers to commit hundreds of millions of dollars in unspent federal funds to health care, housing, mental health services and other support for families that are struggling to survive the pandemic.

Lawmakers last month approved Senate Bill 75, which would deposit nearly $636 million in federal CARES Act money into the rainy day budget reserve fund, and approved Senate Bill 3139 to transfer another $452 million in other assorted state funds into the rainy day reserves.

The federal CARES Act funding was intended to provide relief from the coronavirus pandemic, and lawmakers were criticized for banking the money at a time when many Hawaii residents were jobless and urgently needed help.

On Monday a group of nonprofit organizations called the Working Families Coalition released a plan to distribute $362 million including CARES Act funds “to help families with rent and mortgages, food, health care, child care, domestic violence response, kupuna wellness checks, and more.”

The coalition’s proposal also calls for $11 million to be committed to support immigrants in Hawaii who are ineligible for the federal stimulus checks and unemployment insurance.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature was focused on a historic joint package for Hawaii’s working families,” said Gavin Thornton, executive director of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, in a statement. “Today, we’re asking legislators to support those same families, who are now struggling to pay rent and feed their children.”

The group also proposed a package of “alternative revenue options” to help balance the state budget, including proposals to borrow up to $2.1 billion from the federal government for up to three years; eliminate a tax deduction for real estate investment trusts; impose new taxes on sugary drinks; and tax wealthy pensioners.

The state is facing a $2.3 billion budget shortfall for this fiscal year and next year, and Gov. David Ige told leaders of the public-worker unions in April that he planned to impose 20% pay cuts for state employees, including teachers, to help balance the budget.

But union leaders and others contend that cutting public workers’ pay would do more damage to the state economy and might prolong the economic downturn that was triggered by the pandemic.

A separate plan to provide housing support for working families during the pandemic was also floated Monday.

James Koshiba, co-founder of Hui Aloha, told the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness on Monday that as federal aid for families and businesses is reduced or expires at the end of July, about 40,000 to 45,000 Hawaii renters will see a sharp decline in their incomes.

Of those households, 21,500 will be at “more serious risk” of losing their housing because as their incomes decline, they will be forced to commit a larger share of their incomes to rent. Within that group, 7,500 will be at the greatest risk and see their housing costs as a share of their incomes jump by 30% or more.

To answer that need, the committee’s Housing and Homelessness Subcommittee is proposing a Housing Relief and Resilience Fund that would be financed with CARES Act funds, Koshiba said. That fund would assist lower-income renters who lost income because of the pandemic, he said.

Tenants who apply for help would agree to pay the same portion of their incomes for rent as they did before the pandemic. They would also agree to receive financial counseling, and would receive “mediation or legal support to take care of any back rent issues,” Koshiba said.

The plan is to negotiate with landlords to convince them to discount their rents over the next six months, perhaps by as much as 15%, he said.

The housing relief fund would then make up the difference between what the tenants would be required to pay and the discounted rent agreed to by the landlords, he said. The subcommittee estimates that would amount to a government subsidy of about $450 per month, or $2,700 total over the six months.

State lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday.

COVID-19’s created an economic burden for women


HONOLULU – COVID-19’s created an economic burden for women, who do most of the child care while still working. That’s according to nonprofit Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice, which says the lockdown forced many mothers to shoulder a disproportionate share of day care, home schooling, and housework; about three in ten women have keiki at home. They’re doing this all while working part or full time themselves.

Women’s finances and health are more at risk, too. Hawaii Appleseed says women are nearly two-thirds of Hawaii’s frontline workers, yet more likely to get laid off because those jobs are in industries like retail, food service, and child care. Senior policy analyst Nicole Woo adds, “At the same time they’re hit hard by the unemployment crisis because they’re concentrated in restaurants and hotels,” says Woo.

“There’s tons of data showing women still have to do more of the housework, and through the generations, women are burdened by more responsibilities at home, even when they’re working full time. This pandemic has just brought that into sharper focus,” Woo continues.

She and her peers now warn that the reopening of many workplaces may cause a new set of problems. The lack of child care options — with day care centers limited in how many kids they can watch — may force women out of the labor force to take care of their children.

We dropped by the home of Khara Jabola-Carolus, who is working and parenting full time during the pandemic. “It’s absolutely exhausting. It feels like being handcuffed to a treadmill. We’re four months in. Constant disruption, constant fatigue,” she says about minding her one and four year old boys.

“I’m breastfeeding on Zoom calls, during meetings, presentations,” she says. Ironically, she’s the executive director of the Hawaii Commission on Status of Women, a state feminist agency fighting for equality for women and girls.

Jabola-Carolus says, “The system was broken before we entered COVID-19. There was very little support for women going forward going into the crisis. I’m extremely angry. I feel we’re not being taken seriously. All the labor we do in the home is not taken seriously. If it was, we’d be supported.”

The Legislature reconvenes June 22. Women’s advocates want lawmakers to spend federal CARES Act funds on child care centers and subsidies to working parents. “If childcare doesn’t open up, our economy can’t open up,” Woo says.

The road to economic recovery, they say, should not be across women’s backs. Jabola-Carolus says, “If you want an economic recovery, you’re going to need to put supports in place for women to be able to be part of that recovery.”

New sponsors sought as free meals for Hawaii kids drop for summer

Honolulu Star-Advertiser·

Only 51 public schools statewide will offer free Grab-and-Go meals over the summer to children, far fewer than during the spring semester that was cut short by the COVID-19 crisis or even last summer.

When Hawaii’s public schools shut down for good at spring break to fight the spread of the coronavirus, the Department of Education ramped up distribution of meals to children who normally depend on school for that nutrition.

Altogether, 74 school sites offered the meals, handing out more than 1.2 million breakfasts and lunches between spring break and the end of the academic year on May 28.

“The Grab-and-Go program has been an incredible support for our children and their families during this time of economic uncertainty and we thank our dedicated cafeteria workers, staff and administrators who have worked tirelessly to keep the daily meal distributions running smoothly,” Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a statement.

“As we transition to the summer break, many of our 10-month employees will not be available to staff current sites, but partner organizations will be stepping forward to keep summer meals available at other sites in our communities,” she said.

RELATED STORYFree meals don’t stop at 18 for students in special education

Community programs are supplementing the Grab-and-Go program but they too are lagging behind last summer’s participation and may not be enough to meet demand.

“Hawaii Child Nutrition Programs is still working to get prior community sponsors to serve meals this summer as well as recruit new sponsors,” said Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst for Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. “Especially this year, when we know there’s so much more need, we hope more sponsors will come on board, and that DOE will get more schools to serve meals.”

“It’s understandable that the pandemic is causing challenges, but we’re just trying to find a way to get as many sites open as possible,” she added.

Last summer, free meals were available to children at 71 public schools, a record high, through the federally funded program.

The breakfasts and lunches being offered at 51 public schools this summer are free to children 18 years or younger, regardless of eligibility for subsidized meals, and to special ed students through age 22. Children do not have to attend the school where they pick up the meal.

Some campuses are taking a break this week and will resume meal service on June 8. Most will operate through July 17.

Community organizations offering summer meals this year include the YMCA, which is sponsoring free meals at 11 locations, and Kama‘aina Kids, which is working at various preschools. Other providers include Palama Settlement, Parents and Children Together and Windward Nazarene Academy.

Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center is giving out grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches for keiki and kupuna at four sites from 10 a.m. to noon through July 31.

At participating public schools, breakfast is served from 7:30 to 8 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 to noon, with meals handed off to via walk-up or drive-thru.

A list of campuses offering those summer meals, as well as a separate list of community organizations on board so far, may be found online at

DOE Closing Some Food Sites, Advocates Concerned That Community Help May Not Be Enough

Hawaii Public Radio·

The Hawaii State Department of Education is closing about a third of its grab ‘n go food sites for the summer, and many more are taking a break until June 8th.

Hawaii public schools ended its academic year last week after completing months of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DOE estimated that it has served about 23,500 meals a day at 74 schools across the state.

However, beginning in the summer, the number of sites drops to 51 schools while some are also transitioning to lunch-only service.

The 51 sites represent a decrease from the 71 food sites offered last summer.

Randall Tanaka, DOE facilities and operations assistant superintendent, said the decrease in sites are due to a lack of staff available to handout meals.

Over the past few months, teachers, administrative staff, principals and vice principals have been volunteering at their schools to provide the grab n’ go service.

“These guys have been running pretty hard. They got to go back and do their duties,” Tanaka said. “We began to see some decline in some areas for breakfast and some areas for lunch. With the multitude of other feeding opportunities where people can get food, we began to see this decline.”

However, Nicole Woo, a senior policy analyst with the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Economic Law and Justice, an advocacy nonprofit, worries that other community groups may not be around this summer to pick up the slack.

“There are some summer service programs that are going to be serving kids, but we have heard that some have decided they’re not going to come back this summer,” she said.

“There might be fears about safety due to the virus, they’re not having their summer program or they just are struggling in the pandemic just to have their operations running at all . . . right now the community is struggling just as much as the schools are.”

Woo explained that during the normal school year, about 60,000 to 65,000 students receive free or reduced lunch. She suspects that number will grow due to the financial impacts on families of COVID-19.

Tanaka hopes that the summer program can scale up from the planned 51 sites. He noted that when the grab ‘n go sites initially started in March, DOE increased the number of locations from 46 to 74.

Takana is looking for solutions to the staffing problem such as employing recent graduates looking for summer jobs.

“But it’s an escalation of cost, and if I pay site “A,” it has to be fair to the other 50 sites that we have,” he said. “Still working on that.”

In the meantime, the DOE is trying to target areas with the highest need, and find more non-perishable options to supply students with breakfast at the lunch-only sites.

Parents and students can go to to see which schools are still offering meals.