Anyone entering the Hawaii State Capitol is stopped for a temperature check, but, so far, there is no way to check the political temperature of the Legislature as a political body and where it is going.
On Thursday, the lawmakers again went into recess and are expected back June 15. The COVID-19 crisis caused the Legislature to shut temporarily on March 16. It came back into an abbreviated session on May 11, closed again Thursday.
For folks on the outside, no one really cares much about fighting over small stuff; the only thing that counts is binding the economic wounds hurting Hawaii’s people.
Almost a quarter of a million Hawaii residents — 241,000 — have filed for unemployment. Officials say 43,600 were denied. Of the 174,00 accepted claims, about 128,600 were paid. Still, that is not going to last forever. Every one of those unemployment claims is attached to two or three more children, spouses and parents worried and also needing help.
So before anyone talks about inventing a new economy, legislators and Gov. David Ige need to finish the job of economic triage. Dollars must be spent now.
The Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice reports that Hawaii is bleeding.
Nearly one-third (32.4%) of adults in Hawaii either missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment, or have “slight or no confidence that their household can pay next month’s rent or mortgage on time,” the advocacy center reports.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said that is why he is banking on unemployment compensation being the fastest way to connect people to spendable money.
“We took the lead in standing up the unemployment insurance call center at the Hawaii Convention Center,” Saiki said in an interview after the session recessed last week.
Saiki and Rep. Sylvia Luke were instrumental in lobbying to get a place set up to dramatically increase the processes of unemployment claims, saying that they were able to add more than 200 volunteer workers to supplement the 52 existing state workers processing unemployment.
The big catch now is how to divvy up and spend the roughly $1.24 billion in emergency federal money coming to Hawaii.
The Legislature went back into recess partially to decide how to allot the money, although Saiki said he thinks much of it will go for unemployment insurance.
Also, $175 million will be sent to the neighbor island counties for direct assistance. Honolulu already has more than $350 million earmarked for assistance.
Early fears were that the federal money, now parked in the state’s rainy day fund, would not be spent. Saiki said that when the Legislature returns, the money will find a new home, although the bureaucratic trick will be to get the Ige administration and the Legislature to agree how to quickly spend it.
Adding to that should be the order to move the money into the hands of those in Hawaii hurting in an economy that may not revive for years.
Hawai’i’s hurricane season starts up again June first, and runs through the end of November. This year, the National Weather Service is predicting between two and six tropical cyclones in the Central Pacific. Experts on Hawai’i’s food systems say, we need to prepare for multiple simultaneous disasters. Here’s a look at some of their priorities.
Albie Miles studies food security, especially Hawai’i’s, as an associate professor of sustainable community food systems at University of Hawai‘i-West O’ahu.
“My principal concern at this point is, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, there are a lot of interruptions of our normal social behaviors and opportunities and our economy has contracted profoundly,” says Miles. “At the same time, we’re entering our hurricane season.”
Miles points out most of the food the entire state of Hawai’i consumes comes through the Port of Honolulu–and there is currently no redundancy, no back up, for that port in the event of an emergency like a hurricane.
Food storage is also lacking, and what commercial food storage there is, he says, is situated near the docks in an inundation zone.
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Miles says an agricultural recovery working group formed linking the Department of Agriculture, the Hawai’i Farmers Union, the Hawaii Farm Bureau, higher education, and other players across the ag spectrum.
“We’ve come together to develop a set of policy recommendations to guide decision making around the federal stimulus funds,” Miles said.
According to Miles, initial objectives would be to stabilize farmers’ finances and provide emergency food.
Daniela Spoto Kittinger is director of anti-hunger initiatives for Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. She says currently, hunger is greatest in the very agricultural areas where Hawai’i’s food is grown.
“Rural communities are the ones bearing the brunt of this pandemic in this economic downturn,” says Kittinger. “I think there’s a correlation here between rural communities being the ones that grow our food, raise our livestock, and the fact that we are not tapping into that as a source for our food system. [It] is a symptom that we’re extracting wealth from these communities.”
Kittinger says aiding these communities would support both families and farmers.
“And we can do that through existing federal nutrition programs, things like Farm to School are great for that. Things like that are happening.”
Miles contends Hawai’i can leverage the moment by working across economic sectors.
“We will always be dependent upon external sources of food and there’s resilience in being coupled to global commodity chains,” says Miles. “So a combination of local agriculture production, buttressing our import infrastructure, and finding an appropriate balance between local production and imports is, I think, a key strategy to employ.”
For the moment, Miles says, the idea is to link up government food programs with local ag producers. Already, on Hawai’i Island, in a program set up by Councilman Tim Richards, State Farm Bureau dollars go directly to Big Island farmers and ranchers, who provide the majority of the meat and vegetables for the Hawai’i Food Basket’s Ohana Drops, its food distribution program.
Find out more in Hawai’i Appleseed’s Kupuna Hunger Report.
Albie Miles on community food sovereignty during COVID-19 conditions here.
Guide to soup kitchens and food pantries on Hawai’i Island from Hawai’i Food Basket
Nurturing ag to fill Big Island need; Keeping kupuna fed; Sustainable ag systems; Aina Aloha Economic Futures Declaration; Updates on Hawaii arts groups; Kupuna wisdom.
Hawaii Food Basket, the Big Island’s central food pantry, has been building local food contacts for some time and it’s helping them fill the need, now more than ever.
Disaster preparedness experts have worried for years about Hawaii’s food security, warning that importing 90 percent of our food makes us dangerously vulnerable. Daniela Spoto Kittinger of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice tells us why Hawaii’s kupuna are among the most at risk for hunger during this COVID-19 disruption. Click here to read Hawaii Appleseed Center’s Feeding Our Kupuna report.
Native Hawaiian musician Willie K passed away this week. We remember the man and his music.
Like fairy rings after a patch of damp weather, circles of common interest are cropping up across Hawaii’s economic and social landscape. People are banding together to strategize a better futures as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Albie Miles, assistant professor of Sustainable Ag Systems at the University of Hawaii West oahu, talks to us about food security in Hawaii. Click here for more of Albie Miles on community food sovereignty during COVID-19.
Another local hui, or interest group, is forming around traditional Hawaiian values. Kamana Beamer, an associate professor jointly with the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law and the Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, and Noe Noe Wong Wilson, executive director of the Lalakea Foundation, tells us about the Aina Aloha Economic Futures Declaration, which puts relationships with the land at the center of a new socio-economic system in Hawaii. Click here to learn more and provide your input.
Checking in with the Hawaii Arts Alliance, Hawaii Symphony and Village Hui.
Harry Meyer was born in Illinois in 1929 during the Great Depression. He served in the Korean War then moved to Hawaii in 1950. He hobnobbed with Honolulu Mayor Neal Blaisdell, entrepreneur Henry Kaiser and other members of Honolulu’s in-crowd. He owned and operated the Hawaiiana Hotel in Waikiki for decades before retiring and moving to the California desert in 2000. Now 91, he sent a note of kupuna wisdom to his seven children, in light of the upheaval caused by the coronavirus.
There’s much to be proud of in Hawaii’s response to a spike in food insecurity springing from the coronavirus shutdown. Since mid-March, when stay-at-home orders took effect and much of public life came to a halt, efforts to assist people in need have ramped up at a rapid pace.
Some are campaigns involving established food industry professionals working in tandem with nonprofits such as The Salvation Army and Aloha Harvest. Others involve newly formed grassroots community groups.
Also key to the much-needed assist: business sector contributions, government agency guidance and funding, and a vast contingent of volunteers.
The heartening upshots include hot meals going to homebound seniors, grab-and-go options for kids from low-income households who had depended school cafeterias for meals, and thousands of food boxes being distributed weekly to newly needy families.
While this show of resourceful teamwork and generosity is remarkable, sadly, the scope of the apparent need is staggering.
Statewide, nearly 250,000 residents have filed for unemployment in less than two months — about 30% of the state’s labor force. And Hawaii’s overall delivery of unemployment benefits has been sluggish. Further, most of the furloughs and layoffs are in low-wage service worker jobs, hitting many households that were already living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Small wonder that thousands of cars have been lining up hours in advance of “Food for Hawaii’s Ohana” distribution events. Through a public-private partnership including Honolulu Hale, Hawaii Foodbank, Bank of Hawaii and Hawaii Community Foundation, recently unemployed individuals can pick up 50 pounds of free food.
As state lawmakers weigh how to spend the bulk of federal CARES Act funding, it’s encouraging that a small slice — $2 million — is slated to start a program that will allow all families with children who receive free lunches at public schools to also get help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps.
Some 24,000 families that are now SNAP recipients, and another roughly 20,000 households, will be added through the new program.
Next month, following a planned recess, lawmakers intend to reconvene at the Capitol to consider additional budget changes and other measures. Among them should be allocation of more funding to address escalating food insecurity.
Well before COVID-19, Hawaii was seeing a rising need for assistance. In recent years, the Hawaii Foodbank has estimated 1 in 5 residents were in need during the year, with many households choosing between paying for food and paying for rent or medicine and medical care.
Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, which started distributing keiki grab-and-go meals when schools were shuttered after spring break, points to pre-coronavirus data gauging 40% of that expansive coast as food insecure.
And a recent report focused on kupuna hunger, issued by the nonprofit Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice, placed food insecurity in the state’s age 60-and-older group at between 5% and nearly 10% — estimating that at least 16,700 seniors here are at risk of going hungry. An estimated 70% of Hawaii seniors are eligible to enroll in SNAP.
For many households, the coronavirus outbreak is prodding a necessary focus on frugality. Stepped-up pocketbook management and even a bit of gardening can help those contending with economic fallout to recover. Still, the ongoing tireless work of many groups gathering, preparing and distributing sustenance to those in need remains essential.
Hawaii’s post-pandemic recovery likely will be in progress for years. Lawmakers and others should be taking a hard look at short-term fixes as well as long-term solutions for food insecurity.
Hawaii recorded one new coronavirus cases today, continuing a run of days with zero or few additional cases and spurring the moves to reopen the economy. Despite that, the quarantine order has been extended.
The state health department reported the number of recorded cases at 641; deaths stand at 17. The case count for Oahu is at 415, Maui County at 117, Hawaii Island at 78 and Kauai at 21. There are 10 cases diagnosed out of state.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige has extended the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving visitors and returning residents through June 30, including for interisland travel. The quarantine was set to expire at the end of this month.
A moratorium on residential evictions will also continue through June as the state continues to struggle economically while flattening the curve with zero or few new cases of the coronavirus.
Business reopenings and resumption of activities are continuing across the state, although each county can decide with the governor’s approval when to open certain industries.
On Maui, for example, Mayor Michael Victorino says hair and nail salons can resume business on May 25 under safety guidelines:
• Employees and customers must wear face coverings that can only be removed when trimming near the ears.
• No walk-ins. Only appointments are allowed.
• No blow drying will be allowed nor face-to-face services, such as beard trims, waxing or facials.
• Customers will need to wait outside with social distancing until their appointments.
• Workers must be temperature screened and anyone above 99 degrees will need to be sent home.
• Salons will need to keep daily logs of the days and times when customers come in and their contact information.
• Workstations must be spaced six feel apart and salons should consider divider shields and alternative work schedules.
• For nail salons, plexiglass or similar shields must be placed between the manicure technician and the client. Pedicure bowls must be disassembled and disinfected daily.
• Capes, smocks and towels must be single-use, either disposable or washed and dried.
About 70,000 Unemployment Claims Pending; No New COVID-19 Cases; Facing Cash Shortfall, State Borrows $600M; AG: Another Quarantine Violator Arrested.
On Kauai, Mayor Derek Kawakami opened beaches to expanded activities with social distancing measures on Friday. He said lifeguards reported 14,000 people flocked to the beaches.
“For the most part, people were following the guidelines in place. However, there were concerns with people who are not in the same household who were hanging together on the beaches and in the pavilions,” the mayor said. Some held BBQs and potlucks that are prohibited.
“We want to continue to keep our beaches open. We want to continue to reopen businesses and activities. But in order to do that, we have to be committed to keep each other safe while we move more freely in our community,” he said.
The Legislature is wrapping up work on the state budget to shore up a $1 billion shortfall caused by COVID-19’s impact on the economy.
Lawmakers are using federal funds and loans that will exceed the state’s debt limit to help balance the budget and pay for building projects.
That covers the problem in the short-term without furloughs and cuts to services. But lawmakers are already looking ahead.
Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, says he expects a steep drop in April tax collections, and that will influence the state’s next steps.
“As long as tourism stays the way it’s at, where we’re going to have the quarantine in place and the numbers are low, we’re going to have to depend on the federal government for some assistance,” he said.
“We’re going to have to move, we can try to continue to look at some special funds. And that’s where what the governor proposed — either strategic cuts we’re going to have to look at or some other measures like the governor proposed.”
The governor earlier had suggested pay cuts of about 20 percent, but government worker unions pushed back. Last week, he said the cuts would be a last resort.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported a sharp increase in arrivals to the islands on Sunday.
Some 1,073 people came to the state, including 272 visitors, 400 returning residents, 158 crew members, 51 exempted from quarantine by the state, 57 military members, 85 who said they plan to relocate to Hawaii, and 50 transiting travelers.
If you measure the impact of COVID-19 by the number of cases and fatalities, Hawaii has not been hit as hard as many other states.
The economic cost has been high here, especially in terms of jobs lost.
But there are other concerns, including hunger, particularly for older residents.
The Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice is working on a project addressing hunger issues in Hawaii.
Using census data, the center estimates nearly 17,000 people over 60 in the state are “at risk for hunger” — and that was before the pandemic.
Daniella Kittenger heads the project and she says many seniors face food challenges from mobility issues to dietary restrictions.
And there’s another factor that’s increased in recent months: social isolation.
“So even before the pandemic, seniors might be at higher risk for social isolation due to limited transportation options but this has been exacerbated,” she said. “Seniors fear venturing out in public for food. They’ve lost connection to their long-established food resources, things like community gatherings, or going to church, or for households with seniors and children, that relied on free or reduced price meals. With schools closed, they’re feeding their children three meals a day, whereas before it was only dinner. Things like this are really contributing to the increase in food insecurity.”
Kittenger says the problems are especially severe in the state’s rural areas.
You can hear more about the hunger challenges faced by Hawaii’s kupuna, along with some programs that can help, this Friday on The Conversation at 11 a.m. on HPR-1 and streaming on hawaiipublicradio.org and on our mobile app.
Which aspect of the social safety net worries you the most in this economic downturn?
Nearly half of our state’s population was living paycheck to paycheck prior to this crisis. And now, a fourth of our workers are filing unemployment claims—for some their paychecks are gone forever.
The federal government has implemented major unemployment and relief programs to address this enormous need. The main challenge for our leaders will be ensuring that available funds are fully accessed by eligible residents and governments. The state has historically not been as good at either of these goals.
Certain programs, such as government-supported mental health services, will be even more critical to help deal with the trauma being experienced by our adults and especially our children. The state slashed mental health services severely during the Great Recession and the long-term results are still evident in our families, schools and streets. Funding for rent subsidies and food through the SNAP program will be critical components of any future safety net.
What do you see as the top priorities for state government spending once the Legislature reconvenes?
The top priority for state and local governments will be fairly resolving the competitive demands for support from state workers, business and residents. Decisions should be made by honoring our core Hawaiian values shared by most who call the islands their home.
Those common values include at least an equal opportunity to access quality health care, education for our children, employment that pays sufficiently to support ourselves and our families, housing that is safe and affordable, and a tax system that is fair. These common values should be our northern star when making decisions.
I believe these values should result in decisions that protect resources for nonprofits, community health centers and our schools; improving the economic needs of our workers by fully funding the long-promised EITC (earned income tax credit) program; adjusting for inflation the existing tax credits for renters and low-income individuals; passing a meaningful minimum wage, including an annual inflation adjustment mechanism; and taxing residents’ income and property rather than the highly regressive GET (general excise tax).
Do any of the affordable housing proposals being considered seem possible?
Now is the best time to significantly invest in affordable housing. Interest rates are at an all-time low and the construction sector is critical to our economic recovery. Our state’s leaders were planning to commit significant funding for affordable housing infrastructure development on state land. We should lean into the wind and move ahead with this plan.
The Hawaii Housing Planning Study found that the majority of demand is for households making $75,000 or less. So far the market is more effective in producing high-end rather than low-end units. The main takeaway is that the “market” will not solve our housing needs. Both available land and funding should exclusively target developments that provide housing options for renters as well as low/moderate income homeowners.
The state should explore expanded partnerships with local and mainland non-profit developers. While our state budget is going to decline, we can and should borrow for capital projects and infrastructure investment to make progress in solving our residents’ greatest challenge.
Transit-oriented development around rail was touted to have much potential for affordable housing. How have things worked out so far? What would move things along?
Affordable housing was one of the primary reasons used to justify the expense and disruption of building the rail system. Our leaders promised that the public investment in infrastructure, including transportation, sewers and roads, would make land nearby appropriate for affordable housing. Much of the funding came from a GET that disproportionately taxes low- and moderate-income residents.
Regulations controlling development on land near stations have been implemented that require developers to build less truly affordable housing than required, and the timeframe permitting resale rights by owners is shorter than similar successful mainland models.
As of today, almost no housing near future rail stations has been truly affordable for most Hawaii residents. We have all seen the results of the promise of affordable housing made in Kakaako evaporate. We should double down on our commitment to fulfill the TOD commitments and fast-track all low/moderate income housing, whether for rent or sale, along with making it the exclusive priority for spending all available funding.
How has the pandemic altered your views so far?
This crisis has made me appreciate more the Hawaii I experienced for the first time 50 years ago. Many of our children are experiencing it for the first time. Our islands have a degree of tranquility without the overwhelming crush of tourists while personal courtesies and kindness have improved our unity as a people. Our beaches are pristine again and old and new relationships have been nurtured and invigorated by a common challenge. We should do all we can to preserve the best of these days.
At the same time, I am well aware that the coming months will try all of us with a tsunami of threats to our social and economic survival. Hopefully crisis will bring clarity. I pray that our leaders share the vision, compassion and values of our people. If so, fair decisions will be found to build to our future while avoiding the persistent errors of the past.
Having come of age in the early 1960s, I am old enough to have lived through periods of dramatic social and economic turmoil. Those experiences have taught me to respect and honor the strength of our people and appreciate the opportunities each crisis offers to significantly change direction towards a place we would rather be.
We are all blessed to live in such a special place. Our history and people together support a common vision of the thriving community we crave for our future: accessible health care, a diversified economy less dependent on tourism, fair wages that support our basic needs including affordable housing, quality education for our children, a pristine, protected environment and a safe, nurturing community around us.
Our state and county leaders have critical work ahead to deliver on those values. Let’s hope we put ones in who are ready to chart the future we all want.
Youth from Waianae to Kaneohe may pick up free takeout lunches in their neighborhoods as nonprofits have stepped up to supplement the grab-and-go meals offered at 42 public schools across the state.
The meals for children are to replace breakfasts and lunches they normally would receive if public schools were in session and not closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. On an average school day, nearly 65,000 students across the state receive subsidized breakfast and lunch at school due to low family incomes.
Hawaii’s public school campuses are scheduled to remain closed through April 30 except for the grab-and-go meals. The full list of campuses where the Department of Education is offering takeout breakfast and lunch is available at hawaiipublicschools.org.
The Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center is overseeing an effort to provide 10,000 meals a week at four far-flung elementary schools in addition to the public schools on the Waianae Coast where the DOE is serving the grab-and-go meals.
“Even when this (coronavirus) was not happening, our coast is living in a state of emergency as far as food goes,” said Alicia Higa, director of health promotion for the center. “One hundred percent of our coast, the kids receive free breakfast and lunch. That is two meals a day that have now been removed since school has closed, in addition to the pressure put on the parents by so many being laid off.”
Breakfasts and lunches will be offered from 10 a.m. to noon each weekday, packaged together to make it easier for families and reduce the length of time kids have to spend away from home, she said. The four sites are Kamaile, Leihoku and Waianae elementary schools as of Monday, with Makaha Elementary starting on Wednesday.
The health center also operates food pantries at several schools and is ramping up those efforts. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, a bag of groceries will also be available for families at the four elementary schools. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the pantries will operate at the five other schools where the Department of Education is offering meals: Waianae High, Waianae Intermediate, Maili Elementary, Nanakuli High and Intermediate and Nanaikapono Elementary.
On the town side, the nonprofit Parents and Children Together will sponsor takeout lunches for children through April 30 at Kuhio Park Terrace Community Resource Center at 1485 Linapuni St. The meals are available 12-1 p.m. on weekdays, except for holidays. Palama Settlement is also offering free lunches to keiki from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays, from March 30 throughout the school closures at its facility at 810 North Vineyard Blvd.
The YMCA of Honolulu has extended its distribution of free meals to children in need at five sites on weekdays through April 3 and hopes to get support to keep the meals going beyond that date. It is working in partnership with Aloha Harvest, Kapiolani Community College, the Hawaii Appleseed Center, Hawaii Child Nutrition Program and others.
“It’s important to us to ensure that no one in our community goes hungry during these uncertain times,” said Diane Tabangay, executive director of youth development for the YMCA of Honolulu. “While we are working with community partners, we are still in need of monetary donations, as we hope we can extend our meal distribution through the entire month of April.”
Meals are available for pick-up from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. outside the following facilities:
>> Puohala Elementary School, 45-233 Kulauli St., Kaneohe
>> Kalihi Valley Instructional Bike Exchange, 1638 Kamehameha IV Road
>> Palolo Valley Homes, 2170 Ahe St.
>> Nuuanu YMCA, 1441 Pali Highway
>> Melemanu Recreation Center, 98-2031 Waikalani Place, Mililani
>> INSPIRE Church, 95-061 Waimakua Drive, Mililani
Windward Nazarene Academy in Kaneohe will also offer takeout meals to children from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays starting Tuesday until schools reopen, with distribution at its campus at 45-232 Puaae Road.
To support or donate to the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center effort, email email@example.com or visit that website.
To donate to the YMCA effort, email firstname.lastname@example.org or give online at ymcahonolulu.org/donate.