Hawaii is in line to receive close to $7 billion in various kinds of federal assistance to help it survive the coronavirus pandemic and to help with what is expected to be a long slog to an economic recovery, according to U.S. Rep. Ed Case.
Case on Monday told the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness that Hawaii individuals, businesses and other organizations have already received an estimated $4.5 billion, including $1.25 billion to state and city governments to respond to the pandemic.
Among the beneficiaries is Hawaiian Airlines, which faces an existential threat from what could be a months-long tourism shutdown. Hawaiian is accepting $292 million in payroll support under the CARES Act passed by the Congress and signed by President Donald Trump on March 27, according to an airline spokesman.
Hawaiian also has applied for another $364 million in loan assistance, but that has not yet been finalized, the spokesman said.
Hawaii small businesses already have collected or soon will receive about $2 billion in loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, which Case said puts Hawaii among the top states in the nation for loans per business and per capita. Case estimated that Hawaii businesses will receive another $500 million later from the second round of applications for the PPP.
Stimulus payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child that have been distributed in Hawaii totaled about $680 million as of 10 days ago, and Case said that sum probably has reached $800 million by now. He said he expects another $500 million to $600 million to be handed out in stimulus payments in the weeks ahead.
The CARES Act also included $400 billion to $500 billion to finance “Main Street Programs” to help larger businesses, which could include a number of hotel chains operating in Hawaii, but details of that program have not been made public yet.
Case said his congressional staff is tracking about 50 other programs that will provide varying amounts to Hawaii entities, including the $600 per week in extra unemployment benefits being financed by the federal government.
He said it is difficult to calculate how much that extra “plus-up” unemployment benefit will bring into the state because it is unclear how many people will file for benefits, but “we have been using for general purposes a figure of somewhere around $1 billion or $1.1 billion for Hawaii,” Case said. “That may well be too low.”
The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relation announced Monday that 221,731 unemployment claims have been filed with the state — excluding duplicate claims — and 181,846 have been processed. The state actually has paid 65,252 claims totaling more than $116 million through Friday, according to DLIR.
Other miscellaneous programs to distribute federal aid will bring the total for Hawaii to about $7 billion, Case said.
“Now, that sounds good, it is good, but it’s not enough, I think we all know that,” Case said. “There will be many, many, many small businesses out there at the end of this round of PPP funding that will still not have any immediate assistance.”
The businesses that have been left out so far “tend to be much more on the edge, and so I think that’s a real risk factor out there,” he said.
Case said he hopes a fifth bill to cope with the fallout from the pandemic will provide more help to small businesses as well as state and county governments and the medical community. Congress should be taking up that bill in the next few weeks, he said.
The committee also heard Monday that roughly one-third of Hawaii businesses surveyed essentially have zero income at the moment, but 60% reported they could return to almost full staffing immediately once the local economy reopens. That survey included 623 businesses and was done by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization and the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.
Carl Bonham, executive director of UHERO, said that assuming local businesses can reopen at about the end of May, “we could see 40% to 50% of the jobs that have been lost so far return through May and June. So, we’re talking about around 90,000 jobs.”
Depending on what assumptions are used on the progress of the virus and the dates that businesses can reopen, Hawaii could see the return by the end of the year of nearly 80% of the jobs that have been lost in the pandemic, he said.
In the meantime, Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pam Tumpap said some Maui businesses have been trying to call their employees back to work, “and maybe because they’ve been home with their family now, many of them want to stay and continue to be home with their family.” She wondered what employers should do in that situation.
Bonham said that “particularly for the lower-income jobs, the incentive is definitely to stay on unemployment benefits, particularly with the ($600-per-week) plus-up. With the plus-up you’ve got four months of benefits that exceed what you would make going to work, and if you go to work, you risk getting sick. If you stay home, you’re safe and your salary is high, assuming that you’re getting the benefits.”
Case said he has heard similar reports from some businesses and also heard some companies with job openings are having trouble filling them.
“It was not the intention of Congress in plus-ing up those benefits that if there were jobs available and (the Payroll Protection Program) funded those jobs or the payroll for them, that basically folks could stay over on the unemployment side,” Case said. He suggested it is up to the state to ensure that unemployment benefits go to the people who truly need them.
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