April 6, 2020
Table of Contents
- Guiding Principles
- Process Recommendations
Substantive Spending Recommendations
- Preventing/slowing the spread of COVID-19 - Top Priority
Attachment: Hawaii State Special Office to Accelerate Receipt of Federal COVID-19 Response
This memo summarizes recommendations on how to prioritize the federal COVID-19 funding coming to Hawaii. More than 60 Hawaii nonprofits were invited to provide their input on these recommendations.
As of April 6, 2020, Congress has passed three laws in response to COVID-19 that provide relief to individuals and funding to states and localities. Hawaii is expected to see at least $4 billion in federal funding flow into the state. The largest single pot of money is the $1.25 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), $863 million of which will go to the state, and $387 million, of which will go to the City and County of Honolulu. Some of the spending recommendations in this memo can be covered by non-CRF funds, and as recommended in the Guiding Principles section, the relatively flexible CRF funding should be used only where the more restrictive funds can’t be used or are insufficient (the primary limitations are that the CRF be spent by December 30th to cover necessary expenditures, not already accounted for, incurred due to the virus).
These recommendations were crafted with a mind toward addressing the most urgent needs of Hawaii’s residents first—health, food, and shelter—but also keeping the economy running. As one engine of the economy—the private sector—has slowed, government spending needs to give more power to the other engine to keep the economy aloft. Addressing urgent needs and keeping the economy running go hand in hand. Money toward necessities—housing, food, stimulus checks, etc.— will help not only the recipients, it will help businesses as well—Hawaii’s farmers, grocers, food distributors, property owners, and others.
For questions or additional details, contact any of the following persons who participated in compiling the recommendations in this document:
- Kathleen Algire, HCAN, Director of Public Policy & Research ([email protected], 808-531-5502)
- Beth Giesting, Hawaii Budget and Policy Center, Director ([email protected], 808-369-2514)
- Gavin Thornton, Hawaii Appleseed Center, Executive Director ([email protected], 808-369-2510)
- Nicole Woo, Hawaii Appleseed Center, Senior Policy Analyst ([email protected], 808-369-2512)
- Deborah Zysman, HCAN, Executive Director ([email protected], 808-531-5502)
Preventing/slowing the spread of COVID-19 is the top priority. We need to flatten the curve and save lives to mitigate the human and economic consequences of COVID-19. This means allocating funding for testing and tracking, public awareness campaigns, PPE, ventilators, extra hospital beds, quarantine facilities, additional medical staff, EMS, MedQuest coverage, etc.
Next, ensure that we are meeting the basic needs of Hawaii’s residents. We need to ensure that people have food and shelter. This means allocating funding for the emergency food system (e.g., foodbanks, child and senior meals, etc.) and provide financial support to people who are at risk of losing their housing (in addition to adopting a stronger eviction/foreclosure moratorium to ensure people are able to stay in their homes until the pandemic subsides).
Fill the gaps in the federal safety net by providing assistance to those excluded from federal relief. This principle is an extension of the above two. We need to ensure that all people have access to testing, medical care, food, and shelter they need to ensure their health and that their basic needs are met, which will ensure that the public’s health is protected. This will require additional spending of discretionary funds for some groups left out of the federal relief including:
- Dependents aged 17 and older (most vulnerable are the elderly and disabled)
- Mixed-status immigrant families and filers without Social Security Numbers
- People not on Social Security who don’t file tax returns because their income is so low or they lack access
In addition to the above prioritizing principles, spending decisions should be made that ensure the following:
- Maximize the services and relief available by ensuring the use of relatively unrestricted federal funding (e.g., Coronavirus Relief Fund money) is for services not covered/allowed through other more restrictive COVID-response funds or federal programs (e.g., the Child Care Development Block Grant, The Emergency Food Assistance Program or Family Violence Prevention and Service Programs).
- Borrow when possible. There are limits on state borrowing, and Hawaii is already facing concerns about unfunded liabilities. But now is not the time for austerity. Hawaii is going to need all the resources it can get right now to address the pandemic, keep workers employed, and weather the coming economic storm. As the pandemic subsides, and Hawaii gets back to work, borrow to invest in capital projects to help jump start the economy. With exceptionally low interest rates and CARES Act appropriations for federal loans to states, borrowing makes even more sense.
- Expend funds in the most efficient and effective way possible by building on existing programs and distribution networks, putting money directly into the hands of people that need it, and supporting local entities. Don’t create new programs when existing programs will work or can be expanded. Targeting relief toward those who most urgently need it will ensure that the money gets injected into the economy quickly. While the federal funding should be prioritized for immediate relief, not stimulus, certain forms of relief (such as increasing SNAP benefits) will have a greater positive impact on the economy (see bit.ly/EffectOfStimulus).
Create and staff a special office at the state to: (1) ensure that all possible federal resources are available to our people; (2) that the distribution of those resources is informed by the diverse group of stakeholders they are intended to help; and (3) that all affected stakeholders – businesses and nonprofits, families, state agencies, and others – have timely, accurate information and a clear line of communication to address problems quickly (see detailed description attached and available at bit.ly/COVIDoffice).
Substantive Spending Recommendations
Preventing/slowing the spread of COVID-19 - Top Priority
Purchase PPEs and Equipment: Funding for personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and other equipment such as infection control supplies, digital thermometers, and other supplies and equipment for isolation and quarantine needs. Funding to expand testing, quarantine facilities, and potentially increasing medical facility capacity. Funding to cover medical transport.
PPE and sanitation/cleaning supplies are also highly needed by non-medical essential workers. Law enforcement, police and fire; non-profit essential workers doing front line work (homeless, domestic violence, etc.), childcare providers and service staff at groceries, deliverieries, cleaning crews etc. PPE should also be supplied for clients at homeless and domestic violence shelters
Increase staff capacity to identify and track those with possible exposure and investigate cases including staffing to:
- assist counties in assessing/evaluating individuals undergoing isolation/quarantine in regular intervals to determine any symptoms of illness;
- conduct epidemiological surveillance, including contact/case investigation;
- support emergency operations to assist healthcare community, patient transportation; and
- mitigate migration of COVID-19 into Hawaii at airports and seaports.
Create quarantine facilities for:
- anyone testing positive and unable to isolate (those in multigenerational housing,
homelessness or DV shelters, etc.);
- anyone awaiting test results, but who cannot safely return home and do not need hospital care; and
- medical staff and others at high exposure risk.
The City of Chicago has negotiated with hotels to provide rooms + 3 meals/day, delivery of fresh linens as needed, for approx. $175/day.
- anyone testing positive and unable to isolate (those in multigenerational housing,
Initiate a public awareness campaign to proactively and aggressively protect the health of Hawaii residents from COVID-19. The campaign should include broadcast messages on TV, print, digital platforms and direct the public to a one-stop website containing up-to-date guidance and shareable messages (Facebook and IG can provide advertising credits to help with stay-at-home messaging). Messages must include how to stay healthy and where to get help. Additional components should include:
- High-risk population community outreach and education. Outreach to very low-income people, vulnerable populations who may not have access to computers and news providing information on how and where to get help: immigrants, non-English speakers, etc.
- Domestic violence and child abuse messaging. Messaging to create public awareness about the increase of incidents of domestic violence and child abuse during a public health crisis; outreach to victims reluctant to report because of the stay at home order; widespread distribution of resources available to victims and their families; messaging informing victims that they can leave to seek shelter.
- Translation of resources/information into Hawaii’s most prevalent languages (Hawaiian, Ilokano, Tagalog, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, Samoan, Marshallese, and Chuukese)
- Expand MedQuest and other health care coverage to:
- Ensure that MedQUEST can cover, at a minimum, COVID-19 testing and treatment for people not otherwise eligible for coverage.
- Provide at least temporarily coverage forCOFA residents and others ineligible for federally-funded Medicaid. Ensure that public charge concerns don’t prevent otherwise eligible immigrants from enrolling.
- Ensure COVID-related medical testing, visits, treatment, medications, etc., are provided at no cost for both insured and uninsured patients.
- Take full advantage of Medicaid coverage and service options, such as helping with food or housing.
- Fund the streamlining of online MedQuest applications and allow presumptive eligibility so that hospitals, Federal Qualified Health Centers, and other essential providers can quickly enroll patients.
- Offer automatic Medicaid credentialing for healthcare providers who are otherwise licensed and in good standing in order to meet the increased need for services and ensure reimbursement (allowed through CMS 1135 waiver).
- Provide flexibility allowing providers to be paid for services at a quarantine site or other location where Medicaid care isn’t usually offered (allowed through CMS 1135 waiver)
- Provide flexibility allowing dental providers to receive Medicaid reimbursement for dental emergencies and treatment that will keep patients out of the emergency room.
- Expand healthcare workforce by conducting outreach to health care professionals with an active license, public health professionals, medical retirees, medical and nursing students, or members of medical disaster response teams to help Hawaii respond to the pandemic.
- Increase emergency appropriations for food banks, food rescue organizations, and other mass food distributors (e.g., those serving people experiencing homelessness). The food banks are already distributing more food than ever before, and this is just the start.
- Expand SNAP through increasing outreach, increasing the maximum benefit, and expanding the existing Double Up Food Bucks/DA BUX program at the Department of Agriculture (e.g., provide additional funding and expand to include seniors, recently unemployed, families impacted by school closures, etc.). SNAP is one of the best ways to spend funding in a recession (high economic multiplier effect) and it can support local food producers.
Expand access and funding for prepared meal programs by:
- Ensuring all families that depend on free or reduced-price school meals are able to
access meals during school closure;
- Increasing funding available for home delivered meals for seniors;
- Ensuring food distribution to homeless, DV shelters, and child care centers
- Increasing enrollment in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
- Ensuring all families that depend on free or reduced-price school meals are able to
- Implement Pandemic EBT to provide meal replacement to kids out of school.
- Rent/mortgage assistance and homelessness prevention. Rent assistance is going to be important for both the renters and landlords. While evictions are prohibited, many landlords are small businesses and will require some revenue to sustain the operation of their properties (tax credits for landlords who do not evict their tenants are a potentially good option). Shallow rent subsidies will not be sufficient when people have fully lost their income. Funding for rent/mortgage assistance should be coupled with a stronger eviction/foreclosure moratorium to keep people in their homes.
- Utility payment assistance. The state’s electric utilities have promised to suspend disconnections, but only through May 17th. State funding for utility assistance may be necessary to catch up and keep up, and keep utilities whole.
- Funding for expansion of human services workers and the necessary PPE to protect them in the field. Additional caseworkers will be necessary to meet the increased demand for services, prevent homelessness, and provide services to people already experiencing homelessness. For clients who were homeless and have moved into permanent housing, funding to support on-going case management (emotional support, financial assistance, referral to resources, access to food, legal support for vital docs, etc.) to ensure folks remain in housing & don’t fall back into homelessness.
- Funding for emergency and temporary shelters. This funding is needed to create alternative temporary sites for shelters that have been forced to reduce capacity to allow social distancing (at the same time demand is increasing) or forced to stop admitting new residents because the shelter itself is quarantined due to COVID-19 among staff or residents (for example Hale Kipa’s two emergency youth shelters are in quarantine through April 10). This funding needs to be flexible to allow providers to use creative options, such as housing those experiencing homelessness and domestic violence in hotels/short term rentals.
- Housing and financial counseling. Provide grants to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved housing and financial counseling agencies to address the significant increase in the number of low- and moderate-income households in need of relief from unnecessary evictions, foreclosures, and lease cancellations.
- Affordable housing development. Affordable housing development is not the highest priority to respond to the most immediate needs of the pandemic. But as Hawaii shifts from relief mode to stimulus mode, infrastructure investment should prioritize development of affordable housing and permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness. It may be that some projects aimed at providing low-cost permanent housing to address homelessness can be developed quickly enough to prioritize them now.
- Provide direct payments to providers for caring for the children of essential employees (allowed under CCDBG)
- Help providers cover the costs of maintaining their operations safely during this time, including necessary sanitation equipment, supplies and services; substitute caregivers; paid leave for affected staff; copayments for coronavirus tests; grants to cover operational costs in the event of closure; and other expenses providers and educators will occur as the result of coronavirus spread.
- For subsidy program:
- Expand eligibility for families and waive subsidy copayments for essential workers
(allowed under CCDBG)
- Redefine work activity to include seeking employment and service to the community (allowed under CCDBG)
- Expand eligibility for families and waive subsidy copayments for essential workers
- Fund outreach to families not currently enrolled in child care subsidies, but eligible, due to school closure
- Invest in child care programs for economic recovery. Subsidize programs after the coronavirus pandemic to ensure access for all working families. We had a severe shortage of child care programs before the pandemic and closures since March will make recovery harder.
- Use state funding to assist in start-up costs
- Provide technical assistance to providers and programs. Create a program to assist with
administrative and personnel duties.
- Subsidize wages for providers and child care workers to entice people to enter and remain in workforce
Mental Health and Specialized Health Services/Child Abuse/Domestic Violence
- Increase funding for domestic violence and child abuse prevention/intervention programs. Mental health, child abuse, and domestic violence issues are all exacerbated during times of crisis. Funding for these programs needs to be increased across the board. This includes funding for DOH programs (crisis line and mobile response, adult mental health housing programs including crisis beds, capacity of mental health centers), increasing Community Based Case Management, and broadening eligibility criteria so that more people can be stabilized and served in the community.
- Increased funding for employee assistance programs and support services for first responders, doctors, nurses, social workers, and other essential workers who have to work during this time (housekeepers, bus drivers, postal workers, home care workers, CNAs, etc).
- Increased funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers to see behavioral health patients in anticipation of increased caseload due to people losing medical coverage.
- Funding for telehealth to expand behavioral health services that provide consultation remotely.
- Funding to provide sexual and reproductive health care services in Hawaii. These providers are sometimes the only source of health care for many of our patients and serve as a critical entry point for patients, especially for patients who need guidance on whether to seek care for potential COVID infections.
- Increase TANF benefit amounts and coverage, and use state CRF funds to ensure TAONF recipients have equal benefits.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued guidance to states to help them respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that while it cannot waive TANF work rules, it can relieve states of penalties for states’ failure to meet these standards and “will exercise this authority to the maximum extent possible.” Additionally, the state should look to extend benefits and provide additional payments.
- Use non-recurrent, short-term benefit (NRST), and include eligibility for incomes up to 200% of poverty. NRSTs are outside TANF’s definition of “assistance” and therefore do not trigger TANF requirements associated with “assistance,” such as the 60-month time limit for states, work requirements, child support assignment, and detailed data reporting. Examples of NRST benefits— which could come in the form of cash, vouchers, or direct services—that might be helpful with the impact of COVID-19 include:
- short-term benefits to make up for lost wages; short-term rental or mortgage assistance;
- utility and energy assistance; housing search and placement services;
- clothing allowances; family support services to deal with stressful events;
- financial and credit counseling; and administrative costs associated with any of these activities.
Unemployment/Income Supports/Workforce Development
- To the extent possible, the state should borrow from the federal government to fund Unemployment Insurance payments, preserving funding for other critical purposes.
- Fund expansion of language access and outreach for Unemployment Insurance.
- Start a short-time compensation program (there is federal funding apart from the Coronavirus Relief Fund available for this if DLIR is provided the capacity to create the program).
- Provide rebate checks to vulnerable groups that are left out of the CARES Act rebate check benefit, such as undocumented immigrants.
- As Hawaii shifts from immediate needs to medium-term concerns, consider creating a workforce development program that would provide meaningful work opportunity during prolonged employment (more than 3 months), create a comprehensive database of work opportunities related to coping with COVID-19 (e.g., supporting medical staff, offering in- home services and care to kupuna and immuno-compromised people, etc.), and education opportunities.
Finance and Banking
Provide a $20 million investment in local nonprofit loan funds and Treasury certified CDFIs so they can absorb losses, offer forbearances and reduce payments options for their borrowers, and increase lending activity to serve our residents and local small businesses and entrepreneurs who are shut out from the mainstream financial system. Many Hawaii residents, small businesses and entrepreneurs are unable to qualify for and access credit and capital from mainstream banks and credit unions. Instead, they rely on capital and credit from nonprofit loan funds and Department of Treasury CDFIs. Our nonprofit loan funds and CDFIs are lenders of last resort, but the first to step in during a crisis.
Small Business and Nonprofit Supports
- Create and capitalize an emergency small business/nonprofit relief fund to help businesses meet payroll obligations, fixed expenses, and maintain their supply chains and inventory. This relief must be available with a minimum of paperwork and red tape, to ensure that businesses with limited administrative capacity can access them quickly. This support is especially needed for micro businesses (10 employees or less) that may not be equipped to apply for the SBA loans.
- Provide funding for businesses and nonprofits to hire new staff to replace staff who are quarantined. This is needed to maintain essential services as well as possibly to expand services once quarantined staff can return to work. Agency funds will support the quarantined staff but need extra cash for salaries for new workers.
- For education - Establish computer/ipad loan/purchase programs to easily accommodate distance learning for all families (Hawaiian Hope is a non-profit that specializes in refurbished computers and has 4,000 computers in stock). Fund means of ensuring internet access for low- income students.
- For low-income households and DV survivors - Subsidies for low-income households whose phones are running out of minutes as they sit on hold trying to access benefits (and for use as mobile wifi hotspots). Phones for survivors forced to quarantine/isolate away from a secure DV shelter to enable contact with their advocates or call law enforcement. Funds to pay for staffing to expand texting advocacy services to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- For shelters - Computer labs in shelters, or at minimum PUBLIC WiFi separate from the business network, so students can get homework done, and adults can complete work tasks or online classes.
The state of Hawaii is to receive $3.3 million for election security which should be used for the following:
- Additional Voter Service Centers (VSCs). Even though there are eight VSCs currently statewide, it is still reasonable to have more to reduce the chance that lines may form at VSCs. Voters may still want to vote at traditional polling centers. VSCs provide for same day voter registration and voting services, in addition to other services. People staffing the VSCs should follow the CDC guidelines for keeping the equipment and surfaces clean and people safe.
- Additional places of deposit (dropboxes). Currently, there is an unknown number (and location) of dropboxes throughout the State. The dropboxes will be helpful if mail is slow and for building trust with voters, who do not want to rely on the mail. To prevent long lines forming at dropboxes, as they are only open 5 business days prior to election days, counties also should consider having the dropboxes open earlier than 5 business days prior to election days.
- Self-sealing return envelopes (in addition to having the return envelopes be post prepaid).
- In-language resources for Vote By Mail (VBM). Additional language translations for the VBM ballot package to ensure that no voter will be disenfranchised.
- A machine to automate more of the ballot intake process (e.g. opening, sorting, signature verification) for Kauai county, similar to the other counties.
- Automatic Voter Registration (AVR). AVR will help to ensure the accuracy of our voter rolls to complement vote-by-mail.
Hawaii State Special Office to Accelerate Receipt of Federal COVID-19 Response
Congress has and will be sending financial aid and policy assistance to help states and their residents through the health and economic crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic. The aid that will come to Hawaii’s people directly and to the state is expected to be in the billions of dollars. In addition, important policy directives have been and will be issued that address public health, businesses, financial institutions, and other areas.
These fast-moving and vital federal actions require that the state set up a special office to: (1) ensure that all possible resources are available to our people; (2) that the distribution of those resources is informed by the diverse group of stakeholders they are intended to help; and (3) that all affected stakeholders – businesses and nonprofits, families, state agencies, and others - have timely, accurate information. Within in the Department of Budget and Finance, Hawaii has an Office of Federal Awards Management (OFAM) whose administrator managed Hawaii’s system to account for federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. The Governor should authorize OFAM to be the special office for resources and policies essential for maximizing and accelerating the receipt of federal resources related to COVID-19. The office would report directly to the Governor who must instruct all departments (including the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii System) to work under the authority of the special office, and enforce this directive as needed.
Oversee and accelerate state department and agency responses to federal resources and policies. The special office must manage and deploy information to and from state departments to ensure timely access and distribution of federal crisis aid. Responsibilities would include the following:
- Scrutinize all congressional acts and federal agency directives to identify those that affect Hawaii.
- Trouble-shoot and get clarification for any unclear or contradictory federal directives
- Where federal resources to Hawaii fall short of needs, share accurate information with Hawaii’s members of congress and federal agencies. Find out if unused resources for other states might be redistributed to Hawaii.
- Work with state agencies to plan and manage staff resources and technical expertise needed to expedite responsibilities. If necessary, identify areas where temporary reassignment may be necessary and work with public worker unions to expedite plans.
- Oversee distribution of and accountability for relief funds that can be used at the discretion of the state. Work with the legislature, state agencies and community stakeholders to ensure funds are available for priority needs.
- Ensure that the state agencies responsible for these directives are aware of them and act on them quickly. This may include ensuring that each agency
- Drafts plans for maximizing available resources, including dollar amounts and purposes
- Submits waivers or proposals, if needed
- Manages internal communications to ensure staff stay on top of new opportunities and procedural changes
- Identify procurement requirements that should be waived to get the funds out quickly.
- Ensure that each agency is mindful of and responds to deadlines for reports, updates, and responses to federal agencies
- Ensure accountability and coordination by requiring that all departmental agencies submit to the special office all proposals, waivers, reports, or other communication related to federal COVID crisis resources management
- Ensure that contracting, hiring, and other common challenges are prioritized and expedited
- As necessary, convening state agencies to create a temporary process to do this
- Receive regular reports from state agencies on the adequacy of federal resources, problems with deployment, or other concerns.
- Be responsible to escalate communication and management of concerns with federal agencies as needed.
- Ensure that lessons learned during the COVID pandemic are applied to long-term planning on how to respond to the next crisis.
Accountability and support. To ensure accountability and public access to information, state resources and policy changes will also be put in place during this crisis. The special office should coordinate these resources as well to best support departments and agencies in drawing down and dispersing funds quickly and with fidelity.
Manage communications. The state must ensure accountability for federal resources and also make sure policy-makers, residents and all interested parties are able to find accurate, timely information about federal and state resources, policies, and changes in procedures.
● Create a reporting mechanism to track all federal directives and resources.
● Create a one-stop repository of information that is timely, updated, accurate, and transparent
(i.e., to the extent possible, available to the public)
● Create or provide information to a state website that publicizes information that members of
the public may need
● Ensure that departments and agencies post and keep up-to-date information posted
prominently on their websites that is pertinent to their areas of responsibility. These must include state directives, programs, and resources in addition to those from the federal government.
● Ensure a clear line of communication between departments/agencies and organizations administering the programs funded using COVID response dollars to ensure that barriers/blockages to use of the funds are quickly eliminated.
Work with stakeholders. An effective response requires working closely in partnership with a diverse group of community stakeholders who have: (1) a ground-level understanding of the actual needs throughout the community, (2) insights into the best ways to address those needs; and (3) the ability to work as a liaison with federal agencies to resolve any questions or problems. The special office must work in partnership with policymakers and non-state partners to help shape a plan for deployment of available federal and state resources. Members should be selected to cover the broad range of relevant issues affected by the COVID-19 crisis, including housing and homelessness, education, children’s issues, businesses, labor, economic recovery, and budget and fiscal policy. As a whole the groups should have the perspectives and expertise necessary to understand and respond to the needs of the community, including representatives of:
- Hawaii’s congressional delegation
- Hawaii State Legislature
- Each county.
- Businesses, both large and small
- Nonprofit organizations providing social services and others
- Grassroots community groups, including Native Hawaiians and immigrants
Appropriate staffing and resources. The special office must be provided with appropriate staff immediately to help carry out these new, temporary responsibilities. At a minimum the special office must have the capacity to create and manage a system to collect and deploy information, convene partners and agency staff, identify and solve problems, and communicate across agencies and with the public. It must be properly equipped with software and hardware to manage information, convening, internal and external communication, and other needs, especially since remote work and social distancing must be taken into consideration.
The office may need at least the following staff:
- Administrator. Oversees all functions. Communicates with internal and external parties. Solves problems.
- COVID-19 Program manager. Set up and oversee system to analyze federal acts, share and collect information, identify untapped resources and departments/agencies responsible, ensure accountability.
- Data manager. Record and account for state actions, funding provided and spent, requirements met
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