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Hawaii could get $2.5B in federal relief funds

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The massive $900 billion coronavirus pandemic relief bill passed Monday by Congress includes at least $1.7 billion in Hawaii funding that U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said is not enough, but is temporary help in the current crisis.

The Hawaii benefit is ultimately likely to be greater than $2.5 billion with a yet-unknown portion of $284 billion in partially forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans headed to Hawaii small businesses, officials said.

Schatz said the package — the second-largest emergency relief package in U.S. history — includes unemployment assistance funding, rent relief and aid for schools, vaccine distribution, hospitals and health care workers.

“This relief package will help those who’ve lost their job or can’t make rent. It provides more money for businesses, and gives our state, hospitals, and health care providers more resources to distribute the vaccine and fight this pandemic,” the Hawaii Democrat said in a news release. “While it’s not enough, and we still have more work to do, this will provide help immediately.”

Schatz later told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the new relief bill “will help us to survive the winter.” He added, “We are facing three crises at the same time: one, a health care crisis; another, a crisis of the economy; and a third, a crisis of government.”

The allocated funds “will help us to survive and get through all three crises,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but when you’ve got $1.7 billion coming into Hawaii that you didn’t expect, it’s unequivocally good news.”

U.S. Rep. Case, also a Hawaii Democrat, said, “As our COVID-19 public health, economic and social crisis continues on, for far too many Americans this further assistance is not just about stability and stimulus, but survival.”

Case said he especially supports the additional assistance to health care front lines and for travel and tourism, small businesses and unemployed workers. “There were also many needs that were unfortunately not addressed in this measure, such as further direct state and local government funding,” Case said in a release.

The package includes additional money for Hawaii housing, roads, public transit, infrastructure and Native Hawaiian health and education programs. Key provisions in the package, according to Schatz’s office, are:

Unemployment assistance – extension of unemployment insurance to help those who have lost their jobs or are experiencing reduced incomes.

>> At least $200 million in estimated funding will go to helping unemployed Hawaii workers.

Rent relief and eviction moratorium — an estimated $200 million to help Hawaii residents.

>> Provides a 30-day extension of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s current eviction moratorium to Jan. 31.

>> At least 90% of the funds must be used for payment of future rent, back rent, utilities and home energy bills, and related housing expenses.

Small businesses and nonprofits — provides $325 billion nationally for small businesses, including restaurants, hotels, live venues and nonprofits.

>> $284 billion in PPP loans to small businesses and nonprofits to maintain existing workforce and help pay for other expenses like rent, mortgage and utilities.

>> The hardest-hit small businesses — those with 300 or fewer employees that have sustained a 25% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020 — can receive a second forgivable PPP loan.

Vaccine distribution and procurement — provides nearly $32 billion nationally, including $4.5 billion directly to states and localities and an estimated $35 million to Hawaii, to help distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Testing and contact tracing — provides $22.4 billion nationally for testing and contact tracing, including at least $150 million in estimated funding to Hawaii.

Hospitals and health care providers — provides $3 billion nationally, including an estimated $5 million for Hawaii providers.

Provides a one-time cash payment to millions of Americans. Most individuals will get $600 (joint filers get $1,200) plus $600 per child.

Food and nutrition programs — provides $13 billion nationally for nutrition programs, including an increase of 15% in monthly SNAP, or food stamp, benefits. The bill also provides funding for food banks, food pantries, school meal programs and other nutrition programs.

Economist Paul Brewbaker of TZ Economics takes issue with the merits of giving employed people money in the current environment — in this case the $600 payment. “I’m sure they appreciate it … but that’s not really where the need is,” he said. In a situation like this, “their savings goes up, not their consumption.”

Those who are unemployed are pinching pennies. “In Hawaii, that’s 100,000 persons who were employed a year ago that are not today,” he said.

On top of that, a reduction in tourist spending and an impending reduction in state local government spending suggests that “just passing out a windfall one-time check is not as helpful as programmatically standing something up that will be in place for a year or a few.”

He suggested free tuition at the University of Hawaii for those out of work. “We should be expending more money on training people who are out of work,” he said.

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