To begin, it is time to deliver a living wage to Hawaiʻi’s workers, many of whom serve as essential employees. A 2019 study conducted by the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice found that raising the minimum wage would give 269,000 workers roughly $4,356 more in annual earnings, which would be circulated back into the local economy as low-wage workers spend their extra earnings on food, clothing and other essential needs.
Additionally, lawmakers should pass legislation permanently exempting unemployment payments from the state’s income tax. Whether we’re overcoming a public health emergency or enjoying a booming economy, people who have lost their jobs should not face a tax burden for receiving wage insurance as they search for a new source of income.
Finally, delivering paid sick and family leave is critical in creating a people-oriented economic recovery. Low-income workers are less likely than their more affluent neighbors to receive sick or family leave benefits that allow them to take time off to protect their personal and their families’ health. Employees frequently lose their jobs or are disciplined for taking leave to care for themselves or their loved ones.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Hawaiʻi’s hunger rates were lower than national averages. Today, the Aloha State’s situation is worse than national levels—a striking shift, according to local researchers.
The data, collected via the U.S. Census Bureau’s ‘Household Pulse Survey,’ is the topic of a new report from the University of Hawaiʻi which found nearly half of Hawaiʻi families with children reported struggling to pay for meals as of March.
“The rates were roughly in the 10 percent ball park pre-COVID, and they’re close to 50 percent currently,” said Jack Barile, the interim director of the University of Hawaiʻi Manoa’s Social Science Research Institute. “The majority of people facing food insecurity now are facing it for the first time or in recent history, so that’s kind of startling.”
The surge in food insecurity is driven by Hawaiʻi’s record unemployment rates, which persisted as the highest in the nation as of February. About three-quarters of families that said they struggled to pay for food during the U.S. Census interviews reported losing income during the pandemic.
The consequences of Hawaiʻi’s worsening food insecurity will likely have a lasting impact on children’s health that could take years to measure. According to the report, Hawaiʻi’s hunger trends mirror increasing rates of anxiety and depression in the state, and those interviewed who were having trouble affording food for the first time said it was affecting their mental health.
Local experts worry that families who never qualified for assistance before are missing out on benefits because they are not familiar with how to navigate the system. Of the families that reported the most struggle to afford food, only about a fifth of them were signed up for financial assistance.
The cost of living in Hawaiʻi continues to rise, most notably due to the lack of affordable housing. Many residents work more than one job, live with their parents or make the tough decision to leave Hawaiʻi, just to survive. With the median price for homes continuing to climb, how do we find a feasible solution?
After just four hours, the city’s new rent relief was suspended because so many people applied. The city is using $114 million in federal money to fund the program, which can pay for back and future rent and utilities. Gavin Thornton, executive director for the Hawaii Appleseed Center, spoke about this on Sunrise.
A state Senate bill that would eliminate a daily cap on a dollar-for-dollar match for supplemental nutrition assistance program beneficiaries under DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks program has cleared its first House hurdle.
Senate Bill 512, Senate Draft 2, which was adopted by the Senate in late February, passed the House Agriculture Committee unamended Friday by an 8-0 vote. Two of the aye votes were from Reps. Chris Todd of Hilo and Nicole Lowen of Kona, both Democrats.
The bill would expand the state’s DA BUX program. The program currently provides for a $10 daily dollar-for-dollar match by the state—using federal funds—for SNAP purchases of Hawaiʻi-grown fresh fruits and vegetables at a grocery store, farmers market, farm stand, community-supported agriculture site, or other direct food retailer that participates in SNAP.
The measure, which would lift that $10 a day limit, is intended to provide low-income people easier access to healthier food choices and to help the local farmers and ranchers.
However, some advocates contend now is the time for lawmakers to adopt “progressive revenue solutions” that would increase taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents.
A group of 33 nonprofits and other organizations that make up the Hawaiʻi Tax Fairness Coalition last month urged lawmakers to adopt a package of tax measures that they calculate would raise between $547 million and $969 million a year for the state.
Those groups contend that the Great Recession demonstrated that cutting state spending during an economic downturn actually prolongs the slump. They also want lawmakers to make the state tax system more equitable by increasing the share of the tax burden borne by the wealthy.
Those groups, which include the Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi and the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, say the legislature should raise income taxes on the state’s highest-earning residents, increase the state capital gains tax rate and increase the inheritance tax.
And a number of those coalition proposals are advancing. The state House on Thursday approved bills to raise the inheritance or estate tax, and also voted to increase the state capital gains tax.
Hours later, the Senate Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved an amended version of Senate Bill 56 to increase state income taxes on Hawaiʻi residents with the highest incomes.
This week, more than 400 national and local organizations from across the country sent a letter urging the Senate to pass the American Rescue Plan and deliver much-needed aid and assistants to states and local areas.
From labor unions in Iowa to Arizona associations representing local governments to national policy centers, the organizations emphasized the economic costs of the pandemic in states, cities, counties, Tribes, and territories across America. The organizations highlighted how state and local budgets have been slashed and caused job losses in critical sectors like education and health care that will be central to beating the public health crisis.
They also wrote about the widespread bipartisan support among local leaders and community members in Nevada, Ohio, and Texas, citing a growing chorus of voices on the ground calling for robust economic assistance from the federal government.
According to a state report, the estimated demand for total new housing in Hawaiʻi is upwards of 65,000 for the 10-year period ending in 2025. The chances of meeting that demand with sluggish status quo tactics are bleak, given that new housing units are being built at a pace of roughly a few thousand a year.
Chang’s initial attempt to establish a state leasehold condo program—floated in 2019—prompted lawmakers to call for a feasibility study, which was published this month. Conducted by the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice, the report has mixed findings.
“While the ALOHA Homes model needs work, the concept of affordable leasehold housing has great potential to fulfill an important housing need for local residents,” the report said.
The study rightly pointed out that some key elements of the Singapore model, such as relatively low construction costs and the heavy hand of a highly centralized government, will not be replicated here. However, a variation on the model—with state interagency buy-in and robust processes to engage citizens in planning to address social and political issues, and cost constraints—is well worthy of pursuit.