Anyone entering the Hawaii State Capitol is stopped for a temperature check, but, so far, there is no way to check the political temperature of the Legislature as a political body and where it is going.
On Thursday, the lawmakers again went into recess and are expected back June 15. The COVID-19 crisis caused the Legislature to shut temporarily on March 16. It came back into an abbreviated session on May 11, closed again Thursday.
For folks on the outside, no one really cares much about fighting over small stuff; the only thing that counts is binding the economic wounds hurting Hawaii’s people.
Almost a quarter of a million Hawaii residents — 241,000 — have filed for unemployment. Officials say 43,600 were denied. Of the 174,00 accepted claims, about 128,600 were paid. Still, that is not going to last forever. Every one of those unemployment claims is attached to two or three more children, spouses and parents worried and also needing help.
So before anyone talks about inventing a new economy, legislators and Gov. David Ige need to finish the job of economic triage. Dollars must be spent now.
The Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice reports that Hawaii is bleeding.
Nearly one-third (32.4%) of adults in Hawaii either missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment, or have “slight or no confidence that their household can pay next month’s rent or mortgage on time,” the advocacy center reports.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said that is why he is banking on unemployment compensation being the fastest way to connect people to spendable money.
“We took the lead in standing up the unemployment insurance call center at the Hawaii Convention Center,” Saiki said in an interview after the session recessed last week.
Saiki and Rep. Sylvia Luke were instrumental in lobbying to get a place set up to dramatically increase the processes of unemployment claims, saying that they were able to add more than 200 volunteer workers to supplement the 52 existing state workers processing unemployment.
The big catch now is how to divvy up and spend the roughly $1.24 billion in emergency federal money coming to Hawaii.
The Legislature went back into recess partially to decide how to allot the money, although Saiki said he thinks much of it will go for unemployment insurance.
Also, $175 million will be sent to the neighbor island counties for direct assistance. Honolulu already has more than $350 million earmarked for assistance.
Early fears were that the federal money, now parked in the state’s rainy day fund, would not be spent. Saiki said that when the Legislature returns, the money will find a new home, although the bureaucratic trick will be to get the Ige administration and the Legislature to agree how to quickly spend it.
Adding to that should be the order to move the money into the hands of those in Hawaii hurting in an economy that may not revive for years.