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New IHS facility among virus-related city projects

The Institute for Human Services is receiving $2.6 million to establish a homeless triage and comfort station at a three-story building on 65 North Beretania St. in Chinatown as part of nearly $500 million in federal funding the city is receiving to tackle the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

Officials with Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration told the newly formed City Council Economic Assistance and Revitalization Committee on Wednesday that it has tentatively allocated most of the federal funding, but that they are welcome to suggestions Council members may have.

Gary Kurokawa, Caldwell’s chief of staff, urged committee members to approach the appropriate city agencies with their ideas.

The IHS grant is coming from a $4.87 million pot in new Community Development Block Grant money to provide COVID-19 related services to disadvantaged populations.

But the biggest chunk of funding received so far is $387 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund that was created last month through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act adopted by Congress in March. The money has to be spent by the end of the year and cannot be used to supplant the loss of revenues caused by the pandemic.

Kurokawa said roughly $166 million, or 43%, of the CARES money is going toward grants for households, child care and small businesses and other community services.

Community Services Director Pam Witty-Oakland said that the focus is on reaching “those most vulnerable populations and the greatest needs,” including those newly unemployed.

“We know food is primarily the biggest need out there and so we’ve funded some large food distributions” including efforts led by the Hawaii Foodbank, Aloha Harvest and Salvation Army, Witty-Oakland said. About $8 million is being expended toward that initiative, she said.

The Department of Community Services is also providing $25 million for rent relief, child care and utilities for individuals and families; $20 million in funding for those who serve at-risk groups including domestic violence and drug treatment programs, as well as support services for child care, homelessness and mobile hygiene centers; and help for displaced workers in the form of job fairs and training.

Caldwell on Tuesday announced that at least $25 million, and possibly twice that, will go toward grants of up to $10,000 for struggling small businesses of 30 or fewer employees.

An additional $126 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund is being eyed for first-responder, public safety needs, including the purchase of personal protective equipment, sanitation supplies and rapid response vehicles, Kurokawa said.

The city is also eyeing about $38 million to purchase a building that would help with isolating people who test positive for coronavirus, as well as for contact tracing, or shelter flow, Kurokawa said.

The city is estimating that it will spend $19 million each for equipment, testing facilities and social-distancing renovations; overtime and personnel costs; and the Oahu Recovery and Resilience Initiative that will involve “recovery planning and processing” that’s to be administered by the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency.

Besides the CARES Act money, the city is receiving approximately $90.8 million to pay for TheBus, TheHandivan and other existing transit operations for initiatives directly tied to the city’s response to the pandemic, Kurokawa said. Unlike the CARES fund, money can be used to reimburse the city for operating costs to maintain its existing service and recover lost revenues in the face of the outbreak, he said.

Budget officials said the $90.8 million will help the city plug a $130 million hole caused by lost revenues in the city’s $2.98 billion general operating budget.

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