The coronavirus pandemic shutdown has hit many in Hawaii hard — particularly so, Native Hawaiians, who overall are being negatively affected at disproportionate rates.
New data from the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations indicate that Native Hawaiians are losing jobs during the pandemic at rates exceeding average. While Native Hawaiians are 19% of Hawaii’s working-age population (over age 16), a quarter of jobless claimants in this year’s first quarter identified as Native Hawaiian.
Such disheartening news makes it essential that aid be available to keep the disparity gap from widening. So it was good, and necessary, that both the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) have stepped up for their beneficiaries.
On Monday, DHHL, in partnership with Aloha United Way (AUW), launched the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program f0r Native Hawaiians who have been on DHHL’s waiting list as of Dec. 31, 2018.
Eligible beneficiaries will receive rental help from a $7 million in Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant. Among other conditions, applicants must have had a reduction of income or job loss due to COVID-19, and have a household yearly income up to 80% of area median income.
It’s estimated that this program will prevent more than 2,500 Native Hawaiian families from slipping into homelessness, by avoiding eviction. (To apply, call AUW at 2-1-1.)
That certainly is a worthwhile goal, so outreach to affected and eligible households must be as robust and accessible as possible.
Also noteworthy are OHA initiatives such as its Kahiau Community Assistance Program, which under the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement provides grants of up to $1,500 in one-time emergency aid to cover mortgage, rent or utilities for beneficiaries in dire straits.
These are but two programs trying to stave off hardships for Native Hawaiians. All who are eligible should be helping to help themselves, by checking out the myriad of aid at dhhl.hawaii.gov/covid-19 and oha.org/covid19.
While these programs are for indigenous Hawaiians only, it’s important to remember that as a community, what helps one, helps us all. Besides the genuine relief of seeing many among us kept afloat, there is the practical positive that each household staying aloft means less strain on the homelessness and social-service safety nets.