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State expands grant aid to Hawaii farmers during coronavirus pandemic

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Locally grown produce was delivered to the Hawaii Foodbank in April as part of a new initiative with the Hawaii Farm Bureau. The program was created in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Pictured are long beans from Ho Farms.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Locally grown produce was delivered to the Hawaii Foodbank in April as part of a new initiative with the Hawaii Farm Bureau. The program was created in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Pictured are long beans from Ho Farms.

State officials have redirected more money from an oil tax to help local farmers offset losses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state Department of Agriculture announced this week that it will distribute $200,000 in grants to 96 farmers in a second round of emergency assistance that followed 106 grants totaling $270,000 last month.

The new grants range from $2,000 to $4,000 and are aimed at helping farmers who can’t sell products because of restaurant, school and other business closures.

Money for the first round of grants was primarily from the state’s “barrel tax” on petroleum products, which typically goes into an agriculture development and food security fund. The Ulupono Foundation also contributed $20,000 to assist hog farmers with feed costs.

Since then Agriculture Department officials selected additional barrel tax income slated for other projects that could be diverted to emergency farm relief grants.

“The heartfelt responses we received from grant recipients in the first round made us search even harder for additional funds so we can assist more agricultural producers,” Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, the agency’s director and chairwoman of the state Board of Agriculture, said in a statement. “Although these are not large grants, we know that they are helping many small farms stay in business.”

The agency said it received 333 grant applications in late March and that priority was given to applicants who could show they faced a threat of going out of business due to financial damage related to COVID-19. Some grants up to $10,000 in the first round also went to nonprofit commodity and agricultural industry associations.

Grants went to recipients on six islands. There were 100 recipients on Oahu, 59 on Hawaii island, 18 on Kauai, 14 on Maui, seven on Molokai and four on Lanai.

Additional financial assistance for Hawaii farms also is being offered through an emergency loan program approved by the board April 14.

So far, 30 applications have been received for the loans of up to $150,000 carrying a 3% interest rate. Loans up to $100,000 don’t require a credit denial from a financial institution, and loans under $25,000 involve less paperwork and can be processed more quickly. The agency said a three-year residency requirement for such loans was waived.

More information on the loans is at hdoa.hawaii.gov/agl.

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