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Federal relief funds keep Hawaii businesses afloat amid COVID-19 pandemic

  • STAR-ADVERTISER U.S Rep. Ed Case said the largest portion of emergency relief for Hawaii so far has gone to aid small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program.

    STAR-ADVERTISER

    U.S Rep. Ed Case said the largest portion of emergency relief for Hawaii so far has gone to aid small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program.

When the coronavirus outbreak hit Hawaii, it could have been a crippling blow to the Paul Mitchell cosmetology school, which closed its doors like most other educational institutions in March.

Thanks in large part to federal COVID-19 relief money, the 82-student school is coming back to life — albeit remotely for now — and its students are receiving financial aid grants that are helping them keep their heads above water and stay in school.

The small school that prepares students for careers in the spa, salon and beauty industry not only scored a $247,000 grant from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, it captured $134,000 from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

“We are so blessed,” said Joannie Rossiter, school owner and dean of education. “I am so grateful to be here, to be where we are and do what we do.”

The school in Kaimuki is one of at least 20 Hawaii educational institutions benefiting from the influx of $32 million from the Higher Education Fund in the CARES Act. Among the beneficiaries are the 10 campuses of the University of Hawaii, with Manoa getting the most at more than $11 million.

But that’s only a small fraction of the $5.5 billion in CARES Act grants or forgivable loans either received or soon coming to a state where a tourism-dominated economy is staggering under the weight of COVID-19 restrictions.

According to U.S Rep. Ed Case, the largest components of emergency relief for Hawaii are aid to small businesses through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program at over $2.5 billion, to state and county governments at over $1 billion and direct economic impact payments to residents at almost $1 billion.

Case said large amounts still expected, all totaling about $1 billion, include the rest of PPP plus direct payments to residents, and most of the federal supplement to state unemployment benefits.

But there is likely to be more.

The House of Representatives on Friday passed another massive emergency relief bill, this time with $3 trillion in aid, including more PPP funding, housing assistance, food stamps and nutrition, education funds, an extension of the weekly $600 unemployment benefit to January and a second round of direct $1,200 individual payments, up to $6,000 per household.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said an estimated $3.3 billion would go to Hawaii, with much of the money divided among the state government and the counties over a two-year period.

But the final totals are likely to be lower. The bill was pushed through by House Democrats over strong Republican opposition and will face more flack in the GOP-controlled Senate and White House.

Gabbard said she’s concerned that negotiations over this bill might stretch for weeks.

“Every other emergency funding bill passed in Congress, there has been bipartisan negotiation between the House, Senate and the White House to come up with somewhat of a consensus,” she told listeners in her weekly telephone town hall Thursday.

Meanwhile, Hawaii lawmakers are moving to set aside more than half of the $1.25 billion the state received in federal coronavirus relief money to prop up the state’s rapidly dwindling unemployment insurance fund.

The House Finance Committee approved the $635 million allocation on Friday and the measure is expected to meet general agreement on the House floor and in the Senate.

The bill also allocates funds for the neighbor islands. Hawaii County will get $80 million, Maui County $67 million and Kauai County $29 million, with the amounts set by population.

Honolulu, which received $387 million, is using a third of the money for city first responder costs. Another $25 million to $50 million is going toward a grant program giving the neediest Oahu residents up to $1,500 a month to pay household and child care expenses for up to six months. And another $25 million is going to help small businesses.

The Honolulu Museum of Art received a federal loan of $1.5 million that will help support basic operations during the museum’s closure and anticipated “long road to recovery,” said Tania Ginoza, chief financial officer.

“Covering these costs is a key part of maintaining our collection and online programming during these difficult times, until we can reopen and invite the public back to enjoy the art, activities and programs once again,” Ginoza said in a statement.

The federal loan will pay for such things as utilities and wages for the two-thirds of full-time employees that the museum was able to retain, she said.

“This support will enable us to plan a gradual increase in staffing during the recovery period, including the museum’s reopening to the public,” she said.

Alu Like Inc., the state’s federal Title VI provider serving elderly Native Hawaiians, received $167,000 in CARES Act funds to help feed elderly kupuna.

Leslie Tanoue, director of Alu Like’s elderly services department, said the nonprofit delivers between 40,000 and 50,000 meals a year to those who can’t make it to Alu Like’s meal sites on four islands across Hawaii.

But after the coronavirus pandemic landed in Hawaii, demand for meal deliveries shot up to more than 10,000 just in the month of April.

“People were very, very afraid,” she recalled. “People needed help. Seniors needed help.”

Tanoue said her agency was grateful for the extra funds because they came at a time when it was really needed.

“It was huge for our organization,” she said. “With the amount of meals we were able to serve, it helped us to make sure seniors weren’t falling through the cracks.”

Tanoue said it is likely Alu Like would have still found a way to deliver the needed meals, but it would have put a big dent in the budget and caused a reduction in services at a later date.

Another nonprofit, Aloha Independent Living Hawaii, which serves people with disabilities, was notified it can spend $470,000 in CARES Act money but is still trying to figure out how best to use it.

“There’s definitely a need out there,” said Roxanne Bolden, executive director.

Bolden’s staff of 14 serves 250-300 people on the neighbor islands and in rural Oahu. The aim is to give those with disabilities the choice of where to live and receive services that allow this to happen.

Bolden said she’s still trying to figure out the best way to use the money that comes with strict federal guidelines and has been joining in on calls to discuss associated technical issues on a near-daily basis.

She said she’s sent a survey to her clients, and has identified a few key areas that might work, including giving computer tablets to clients to help them engage in telehealth services and delivering life-sustaining food.

Bolden said she’s aiming for a June implementation.

For Rossiter of the Paul Mitchell school, the federal money helped to keep her staff of 15 employed and will offer a greater degree of survival to her “future professionals,” many of whom are otherwise struggling.

At least $118,500 of the CARES Act funding will go to student grants. Checks for the students were printed last week.

Rossiter said it’s been a challenge running beauty classes online and conducting Zoom meetings on a daily basis. She said she’s hoping to be able to reopen the school in June.

“It’s tough, but this is our time to work smarter, not harder, to really look at what we need and appreciate the new normal,” she said.

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