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Small-business relief gets big chunk of Honolulu’s CARES funds

More than one-third of the city’s $387 million share of CARES Act funding is going to the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund, according to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser analysis of a list of allocations that the Caldwell administration distributed this week to the Honolulu City Council.

Other funding is being earmarked for a slew of activities from food distribution to the purchase of protective equipment for city first responders and other employees on the front lines of dealing with the pandemic. A significant chunk is being tentatively earmarked for pandemic-related overtime incurred, but city officials say they might spend that money on more direct programs and services instead.

The Council Economic Assistance and Revitalization Committee is scheduled to discuss the distribution list of CARES money at its 2:30 p.m. meeting today.

Federal CARES Act money must be used for expenses resulting directly from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and all funds must be spent by the end of the year. The use of the funds is being carefully scrutinized by the Council and the public because the money can be distributed without going through standard procurement rules to allow for it to be spent more quickly.

Josh Stanbro, the city’s chief resilience officer, said Tuesday that 94% of the $387 million already has been earmarked or allocated for programs and services. About 52%, or $201.5 million, actually has been awarded, he said.

“The bottom line is the city is really trying to prudently expend all of the CARES money and get as much as possible out to as many individuals, small businesses and into where folks can stay, and try to circulate (as much as possible) into the economy,” Stanbro said. Mayor Kirk Caldwell and city officials have been sitting with state economists to determine “what’s the most effective and efficient way to deploy funds to make sure they not only go into the economy, but stay and circulate.”

The city has distributed four allotments of CARES money totaling $132.6 million to four local credit unions tasked with distributing the reimbursement money to Oahu businesses under the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund.

An additional $10.5 million given to “multiple credit unions” to “distribute the awarded grant money” also may be part of the small-business effort.

The program allows for reimbursement of coronavirus-related expenses of up to $20,000 for those qualifying for-profit and nonprofit businesses that make less than $2 million in annual gross revenue. The maximum available for an individual business would be $50,000, and up to a maximum of $50,000 for those that earn $4 million to $5 million in annual revenue.

The four credit unions hired to distribute the funds are the Aloha Pacific Federal Credit Union, Hawaii State Federal Credit Union, HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union and Honolulu Federal Credit Union.

The administration last week announced it is starting up a Culture and Arts Relief and Recovery Fund. The list shows a total of $10.8 million handed to the Hawaii Community Reinvestment Corp. and Finance Factors to distribute to those who earn a living through cultural or art endeavors who typically don’t have a storefront and therefore can’t qualify for the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund.

For-profit and nonprofits making under $1 million annually through arts and culture are eligible for up to $10,000 in reimbursements, while those earning $1 million or more can receive up to $50,000.

The nonprofit Hawaii Community Foundation has been designated to receive $37.6 million in two allotments to provide child care, housing and support services, drug treatment and mobile hygiene programs for vulnerable populations such as the homeless and recently released inmates.

Aloha United Way, Helping Hands Hawaii, Catholic Charities Hawaii and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement were put in charge of $25 million to provide rent assistance and child care services to the needy.

The Star-Advertiser analysis identified about $17.5 million earmarked for overtime costs, with $16 million of that going to the Honolulu Police Department. Officers have been assigned to enforce the city’s outbreak-related emergency orders and have issued thousands of citations.

Other overtime money is going to the Department of Customer Services to deal with driver licensing issues and to the Honolulu Fire Department for a hazard incident management team.

Stanbro said overtime money has only tentatively been earmarked and that money could instead go to programs and services before the end of the year.

HPD also received $4.68 million for what are identified as “police services officer contract positions.” At least $403,530 has been allocated for HFD to provide personal service contracts to retired firefighters, captains and battalion chiefs to assist with the the federally funded public surge testing program conducted last month with the help of U.S. Surgeon Gen. Jerome Adams.

Other interesting expenditures listed:

>> The Hawaii Public Health Institute was earmarked $3.375 million to work with community partners on the issue of food security, as well as coordinating and planning a Kupuna Food Security Coalition.

>> Stryker Medical has been allotted more $5 million for chest compression devices, defibrillators and other medical equipment.

>> The Anthology Marketing Group was provided $1.2 million for advertising of city programs, while OmniTrack Group and SMS Research have been contracted, at a cost of $6.25 million in total, for contact tracing, according to city spokesman Alexander Zannes.

Other money has been distributed for the lease of hotel space for quarantine facilities, the design and construction of protective lobby entries at the Frank Fasi Municipal Building, upgrading cybersecurity software and purchasing vehicles.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. among the nonprofit agencies involved with the city’s Culture and Arts Relief and Recovery Fund. The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement is one of the four entities.

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