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Hawaii lawmakers lay out plans to use $635M in federal aid for the unemployed and small businesses

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, walks by hundreds of bagged produce items readied for distribution during a food drive on May 8, 2020 at Leeward Community College. The state Legislature has announced plans for using $635 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for helping the unemployed and small businesses in Hawaii.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau, walks by hundreds of bagged produce items readied for distribution during a food drive on May 8, 2020 at Leeward Community College. The state Legislature has announced plans for using $635 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for helping the unemployed and small businesses in Hawaii.

The Hawaii state Legislature has announced plans for how it will spend $635 million from the federal aid package in response to the coronavirus to help Hawaii residents and businesses.

State Rep. Sylvia Luke said in a statement today that funding from the federal coronavirus relief package will provide immediate relief for Hawaii’s families and local businesses suffering from the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Legislature’s plan builds on experts’ estimates that $618 million in spending will generate more than $1 billion in gross domestic product over the coming year. The spending will also support up to 6,500 jobs, according to a news release from the state Legislature.

Through the Legislature’s plan, the state will begin on Aug. 1 issuing $100 a week in unemployment benefits for about 117,000 unemployed residents in Hawaii. The benefits will replace a portion of the $600 a week in federal plus-up payments for the unemployed that are set to expire July 31.

About $230 million of the Legislature’s funds were set aside for the weekly benefit, which will continue flowing to unemployed residents until the end of the year.

Some $100 million from the federal aid package will fund subsidies for rental and housing assistance for more than 34,000 households in the islands. The program will provide a monthly subsidy of $500 or 50% of rent, whichever is lesser, for up to five months from Aug. 1 to the end of the year. The funds will go to helping the state’s most financially vulnerable households.

Another $56 million from the federal funds will help small businesses and manufacturing in the state. The money will support training and job programs that connect local businesses with the unemployed. It will also provide grants to local companies that can create local supply chains for necessary cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a statement that the pandemic may help drive the push to diversify Hawaii’s economy, which has been a priority for years.

“The pandemic has exposed the urgency with which we need to provide workforce development and businesses with the tools to learn how to thrive beyond the tourism economy,” he said. “We are proud to announce this plan that will address the immediate needs of residents and small businesses, and in the process will aide in stimulating our economy.”

In addition, the funding package will also devote $100 million to distributing sanitation and personal protective equipment to essential workers beyond the health care community, including those in child care facilities, elderly care homes, schools, and non-profits working with populations vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Finally, the plan allows Gov. David Ige’s administration to use the roughly $39 million remaining for unanticipated and emergency needs, such as bolstering the state’s unemployment insurance funds or supporting coronavirus-related programs.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the plan allows Gov. David Ige’s administration to use the roughly $150 million remaining. The amount is actually $39 million.

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