Families need immediate relief.
In April, Hawaiʻi received $1.25 billion in federal funds from the CARES Act to be spent on state and local response to the COVID-19 emergency by December 30, 2020. The federal law directed $387 million of it to the County of Honolulu.
That left $863 million for the rest of the state. Last month, the legislature allocated about 20 percent — $175 million — to the other counties and $53 million to state departments involved in direct pandemic response. That leaves $635 milllion in unspent federal funds for Hawaiʻi.
Here in Hawaiʻi, our working families are struggling with some of the highest rates of unemployment, income loss and housing insecurity in the nation due to the pandemic. Regardless of how the funding is distributed (through counties or state departments), it is crucial that these funds move quickly to those who need it the most.
Allocating CARES Act funds to priorities like housing and food assistance, health care, social services and child care isn’t just the right thing to do. This type of spending also helps our entire community by preventing evictions and foreclosures, alleviating the detrimental effects of unemployment and stay-at-home orders, and ensuring that working parents can get back to work.
Prior to COVID-19, the legislature’s historical joint package was focused on the same working families who are now waiting in lines for food and worried about how they will pay rent this month. The Working Families Coalition proposes spending $362 million of the remaining CARES Act relief funds to support families through priorities outlined below.
Priority Areas: $362 million
Health Care: $115 million (read more)
- $75 million for subsidies for health insurance coverage (employer-provided costs, premiums for individuals or families, or out of pocket costs for the Affordable Cares Act marketplace)
- $32.2 million to Federally Qualified Health Centers to continue their work supporting our residents in their communities
- $7.5 million for family health support (home visits, early intervention, and parenting education)
Social Services: $80 million (read more)
- $5 million to fund therapeutic assistance and support groups for legal services and advocacy
- $32 million for behavioral health services related to COVID-19 for adults and children
- $41 million for child care assistance
- $2 million for wellness checks to connect isolated kūpuna with resources and services
Basic Needs: $155 million (read more)
- $40 million in support for food banks, food rescue organizations, and food hubs to respond to increased demand
- $115 million in rent and mortgage assistance to prevent evictions and foreclosures, and legal services for renters during mediation
Assistance for Immigrants: $12 million (read more)
- $11 million to support immigrants and mixed-status families that have been shut out of federal pandemic relief
- $600,000 for improved language access to benefits
While Hawaiʻi’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed, there are several reasons that Hawaiʻi should NOT commit its CARES Act funds to the unemployment insurance (UI) trust fund.
Most importantly, workers are not in danger of losing their UI benefits, even if the state UI trust fund runs out. Hawaiʻi is one of the states that’s already approved for a line of credit with the federal UI trust fund to make sure that benefits don’t stop.
In other words, committing Hawaiʻi’s CARES Act funds to the state’s UI trust fund will not get additional money to people who need it when they need it. In addition to helping meet immediate needs, getting CARES Act funds directly to struggling families and businesses quickly will help keep the economy from taking an even deeper dive.
About half of the states have already started getting CARES Act funding to those who need it most, especially struggling working families and small businesses. Other states have been allocating their CARES Act funds to priorities such as housing and food assistance, social services, child care, health care, and small business relief.
The CARES Act state relief funds are not allowed to be used to fill revenue holes in the state budget. Instead, there are some progressive revenue options that could raise up to $3 billion to help fill Hawaiʻi’s large imminent budget gaps.
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