How COVID-19 shaped Appleseed’s work in 2020

The year 2020 was a turbulent one, but it proved the power of Hawaiʻi’s greatest strength—its people.

When a global pandemic upended our way of life early in 2020, individuals and organizations across our archipelago stepped up in big and small ways to help those in the community most impacted. Frontline employees worked overtime to maintain vital infrastructure; volunteers passed out meals to ensure families didn’t go hungry; and our neighbors, friends and family have continued to care for and support one another throughout this challenging time. 

Our own work at Hawaiʻi Appleseed was also shaped by the pandemic and the severe recession it has caused through the disruption of our economic system. Plans for a hopeful legislative session were shelved as the immediate impact of COVID-19 took front and center stage in policy discussions. Chances to advance progressive policy changes gave way to playing defense against proposed austerity measures—furloughs, layoffs, budget cuts and public service interruption.

But the crisis also made it even more clear just how much those progressive policy changes are needed in Hawaiʻi. Through our various programs, our staff continued to connect the impacts of the pandemic-recession with the need for change, contextualizing the call for a new economic system that prioritizes working families, offers equal access to opportunity, creates sustainable industries and promotes self-sufficiency.

PHOCUSED—the social-service provider network and community engagement program we adopted in 2019—brought together nonprofits to collectively confront the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

PHOCUSED also revived the Hawaiʻi Coalition for Immigrant Rights to address the specific challenges faced by the immigrant communities during this pandemic and over the long term.

The Hawaiʻi Budget & Policy Center (HBPC) informed a program to distribute $50+ million in rental assistance relief via the federal CARES Act, assisting more than 40,000 Hawaiʻi households to pay their rent in 2020.

Lawyers for Equal Justice secured a favorable ruling from the U.S. Federal District Court in our Front Street Apartments case, preserving 142-units of badly-needed affordable housing in Lahaina, Maui, for the next 31 years.

Hawaiʻi Appleseed, meanwhile, worked with state agencies to make a temporary Pandemic-EBT program broadly accessible to qualified families. To this day, more than 93,000 Hawaiʻi residents continue to benefit from this program. Now about to launch its third round of benefits in 2021, the program provides access to over $50 million in food purchasing assistance. 

And over the summer, Hawaiʻi Appleseed launched our Native Hawaiian Equity Initiative to elevate the concerns and issues of Native Hawaiian communities, a first step in our effort to become a better ally and partner in addressing Native Hawaiian issues at the policy level.

While there is much more work to do in 2021, the strength and resilience of our communities give us hope—and your support powers us forward.