U.S. Rep. Ed Case expressed confidence that unspent federal funds for COVID-19 relief in Hawaii will not have to be returned at the end of the year, and said he remains hopeful that another round of federal support could come from Congress.
“The federal government’s the only place that has the size, the resources and the capability to deliver this level of emergency assistance that is critically needed as we go into kind of the third wave of coronavirus across the country,” Case told the state House Select Committee COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness on Monday.
The House last summer passed a second round of $3 trillion in COVID-19 stimulus funding known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions — or “Heroes” — Act. But a political divide remains between the House and Senate regarding future funding, including whether to extend the current deadline to spend or commit billions of dollars in CARES Act funding across the country, including more than $10 billion to Hawaii.
“I’m personally comfortable that these moneys are not going to be required to be refunded to Treasury in the worst-case scenario that we did not extend that deadline,” Case said.
But there are fundamental disagreements, including that the Senate does not want more money going to states and counties for COVID-19 relief, Case said.
Case characterized the Senate’s position as a “major stumbling block” — which he opposes.
“There is still a huge gap in terms of exactly what final amount should be passed and where it should go and when that should be done,” he said. “The range is … $2.2 trillion to $1.6 trillion.”
At the same time, there appears to be room for agreement, including “direct payments for small businesses and particularly hard-hit sectors of our economy,” including health care systems, front-line workers and personal protective equipment, Case said.
Some money could be funded separately on areas where the House and Senate agree. But all of the details remain uncertain.
“It’s possible, not probable, that it would come before the end of the year,” Case said. “It would take a lot of heavy lifting to get it.”
But Case said, “I cannot represent to you right now when that’s going to be, how it’s going to be or how much it’s going to be. Anybody that tells you that they know what the outcome is going to be is just not looking at the facts.”
Even if the Senate and House can reach agreement, Case said it’s unclear whether President Donald Trump would sign any funding bills.
He called the overall climate in Washington, D.C., right now “a highly unpredictable situation.”
“D.C. right now is very chaotic and very uncertain,” he said. “We’ve got a number of things going on right now.”
“We all have to have our Plan B’s,” he said. “For anybody to rely upon additional federal government funding to the detriment of other alternatives, I don’t think that’s the right approach.”
State House Speaker Scott Saiki, co-chairman of the House committee, began the meeting by announcing that state Rep. Linda Ichiyama (D, Salt Lake-Moanalua Valley) will chair a newly created Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness Committee.
“We thought that we needed to focus in this session on pandemic issues and management,” Saiki said.