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Hawaii lawmakers plan to add $100 to weekly jobless benefits

                                The Hawaii Legislature plans to spend $635 million in federal coronavirus relief funds assisting the unemployed and local businesses.
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The Hawaii Legislature plans to spend $635 million in federal coronavirus relief funds assisting the unemployed and local businesses.

The state Legislature said this weekend that it will spend $635 million in federal coronavirus relief funds assisting the unemployed and local businesses with the hope that the financial injection will help defrost the state’s frozen economy.

State Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, said in a statement Sunday that “the Legislature is acutely aware of the daily challenges facing Hawaii’s working residents.” She said the funding will provide immediate relief for Hawaii’s families and local businesses affected by the economic shutdown to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The Legislature’s plan builds on the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization’s estimate 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 Legislature news release.

News of the additional relief came as the state reported 11 new cases of the coronavirus Sunday, raising the statewide total to 814. The new cases included nine on Oahu and two on Hawaii island. No new cases were reported on Kauai, which was grappling with an outbreak in one household last week that led to eight people testing positive. The state’s death toll remained at 17.

On Sunday, Hawaii’s largest nursing home reported that an outbreak at its facility has continued to grow. Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Makiki said two more residents and one staff member tested positive over the weekend, bringing the number of cases at the center to 15. Nine residents and six staff members have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak there began June 12.

The center tested all residents and staff last week, completing about 600 tests, and will begin a second round of testing this week. Five of the residents who tested positive have been hospitalized.

Under the Legislature’s plan for doling out the federal coronavirus funds, the state will begin issuing $100 a week in unemployment benefits on Aug. 1 for about 117,000 unemployed residents in Hawaii. The benefits will replace the $600 in weekly federal “plus-up” payments for unemployed residents that are set to expire July 31.

The Legislature has set aside $230 million of the federal funds for the weekly benefit, which will continue flowing to unemployed residents until Dec. 31.

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 less, for up to five months from Aug. 1 to the end of the year. The funds will go to the state’s most financially vulnerable households, the Legislature said.

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 might 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 aid in stimulating our economy.”

In addition, the funding package will devote $100 million to distributing sanitation and personal protective equipment to essential workers beyond the health care community, such as in child care facilities, senior care homes, schools, and nonprofits working with populations vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Finally, the Legislature plans to allow Gov. David Ige’s administration to use the roughly $39 million remaining from the federal funds 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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