Social service workers rally at state Capitol

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.”