COVID-19 response focusing on assisting state in managing social safety net programs

During this crisis, Appleseed’s concern lies with the working families and children of Hawaiʻi

Hawai‘i Appleseed has been actively working with local, State, and Federal partners to ensure that Hawai‘i’s people have access to the resources they need to weather both the public health crisis and subsequent economic shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We helped draft and signed on to an open letter to Govenor Ige that was released on March 15, requesting action for our working families. The letter listed policies and practices that need to be adopted to keep our working families afloat. They included actions involving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), child nutrition programs (including school meals), food banks, Unemployment Insurance, Temporary Disability Insurance, sick leave for state workers, child care facilities, health insurance and medical costs.

Ensuring Hawai‘i’s people have access to food is one of Hawai‘i’s most critical and immediate needs, and one of the areas we’ve focused our attention. We are working to ensure that children and families that rely on school meals and other federal nutrition programs to supplement their household budgets can still access food during school closures.

Along with other community partners, we are advocating with all parts of our state government, especially departments that administer SNAP, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food program, other child nutrition programs, emergency food, and unemployment insurance to make their programs as flexible as possible, in order to ensure that our safety net is as strong as it can be during the coming months.

We commend the Hawai‘i Child Nutrition Programs agency for the proactive measures it has taken to apply for the federal waivers announced by United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week. These waivers allow food to be served “grab-and-go” style, so that kids and families are not putting themselves at risk from COVID-19 when they come to get their meals. They will also allow flexibility in the meal pattern requirements should there be a shortage of certain food items in the islands.

The Hawai‘i Department of Education (DOE) has put together a plan to serve grab-and-go meals at 38 of their campuses statewide throughout its extended spring break. (View map of locations)

This is also a time for communities to come together in new ways and create new partnerships. We have been coordinating partners and funders to stand up a feeding system for low-income children during COVID-19-related school closure. We’re connecting those who have open kitchen or storage space for food preparations, extra grab-and-go packaging materials, or vehicle fleets that can be used to transport meals to drop sites to those who need these services.

Finally, our emergency food system—food banks and their network of pantries and distribution sites—are especially burdened during times of emergency. While the legislature suspended earlier this week without passing any relief funding, we are coordinating a request for emergency appropriations to help support our food banks during this critical time.