comscore Column: Stave off cuts to social-service agencies, who help vulnerable | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | Insight | Island Voices

Column: Stave off cuts to social-service agencies, who help vulnerable

                                Robert Van Tassell is president and CEO of Catholic Charities Hawai‘i.


    Robert Van Tassell is president and CEO of Catholic Charities Hawai‘i.

Social service agencies, such as Catholic Charities Hawai‘i, continue the important work of serving the most vulnerable in our community. People have counted on us during this unprecedented time and we have responded.

Catholic Charities Hawai‘i is on the front lines addressing the needs of the most vulnerable every day. Our staff is responding to increased demand for services and support. Compelled by our mission we give voice to those most impacted by high rates of unemployment.

Therefore, we must speak to any possible funding reduction in social services funding. Such a cut would limit our ability to respond at a time when program demand is increasing. We say this and we understand the state’s budget shortfall is $1.6 billion and difficult decisions need to be made.

Our community is experiencing tremendous job loss and reduced work hours for hundreds of thousands of Hawaii residents. Through no fault of their own, many have been suddenly laid off and count on the nonprofit social service community for emergency rental and utility assistance to simply remain in their home. Kupuna who are isolated at home still need access to groceries and their medications. The demand for counseling services has increased as the stresses related to job loss has led to a higher incidence of domestic violence and child abuse.

Now more than ever, we need state lawmakers to reaffirm funding commitments ensuring critical social services remain uninterrupted during this time. We simply cannot afford cuts to social services in the fiscal 2021 budget at a time when stress and anxiety have brought about an across- the-board dramatic increase in demand for social services.

Calls to help lines for rental assistance, utility assistance, transportation, mental health counseling and other basic needs requests have seen a significant increase in the last month. Most agree the fallout will have repercussions that will remain with us for years.

With the statewide unemployment rate at 35% during the month of April, those who have lost their job or work hours are in need of short-term monetary help for rent to keep from falling into homelessness. “Rapid Rehousing” and other similar programs are needed to assist those already facing financial hardship.

The work of our nonprofits is critical in finding our way forward through COVID-19. Children, families, veterans and elders all need our community and nonprofit organizations partnering with the state, the four county governments, business community and volunteers to serve those most in need.

Now is the time to continue these partnerships to support those who will be impacted by this current economic downturn and health crisis. The state and Legislature need to ensure there is a strong safety net in place for our residents and businesses. Funding cuts would hurt all of us, right when we need these services the most. Let us continue to work together to strengthen our community through these trying times.

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