U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono wants Gov. David Ige to provide more transparency in how the state is spending federal CARES Act funding in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — along with a spending plan before the rest of the funds potentially dry up by the end of the year.
Some $321 million has yet to be earmarked and faces the possibility of having to be returned to the U.S. Treasury, Hirono wrote to Ige this week.
Ige’s staff did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hirono’s letter Thursday.
“I remain concerned that Hawaii will not spend these federal resources before the end of the year, and that a lack of clear information provided by the state on how funds are being used is creating frustration and confusion among Hawaii’s residents,” Hirono wrote to Ige.
“Trust and confidence in public institutions are imperative to help us get through this pandemic and a lack of transparency and clear communication only creates distrust and erodes confidence.”
In April the state received $863 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
After reviewing the state’s website detailing the money, Hirono said that as of Aug. 31 the state has $321 million in unspent, unallocated funds that might need to be returned.
“After reviewing the state’s website for explaining its use of these pandemic relief funds I am concerned the average viewer visiting the website will not leave with a clear picture of the state’s plans for spending,” Hirono wrote.
Hirono asked Ige to provide:
>> A list of any outstanding inquiries that his office has with the Department of the Treasury regarding eligible uses of the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
>> Additional information on any outstanding inquiries with the federal government that are causing the state to delay spending from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
>> A detailed timeline outlining when allocated funds are expected to be transferred to the relevant state agencies.
>> A detailed agency-by-agency timeline for expending coronavirus relief funds once transferred to them.
>> The details of any existing contingency plans, in the event these funds are not spent for their intended purposes by the state Legislature’s deadline of Dec. 28.
“I understand the unprecedented challenges you have faced in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hirono wrote to Ige. “Your recent announcement to realign the COVID-19 response team with specific and clear roles for each member is helpful. As we move forward, I encourage you to continue clearly and plainly communicate what is being done, how it is being executed, and provide frequent status updates. Rather than waiting on Congress and the administration to provide the funding and certainty that state and local governments deserve, the state should move forward with the necessary use of funds to meet this pandemic head on. Greater transparency will help bolster public confidence in the state’s response.”