The statewide moratorium on residential evictions would be extended for another two months in a COVID-19 emergency proclamation that Gov. David Ige plans to issue this week.
And federal stimulus funds also will extend rental assistance — to include utility financial aid — that could help renters for up to a year, Ige said Tuesday.
The Council on Revenues already has forecast an additional $300 million increase in revenue this year — and is projecting an additional $2 billion over the next seven years, leading to “a significant impact” on the state’s financial planning, Ige said.
Signs of COVID-19 economic recovery are driven by Hawaii’s Safe Travels program, which “is helping to reopen hotels and helping to reopen restaurants and small businesses that depend on travelers, in particular,” Ige said.
The improved economy means that previously announced 10% budget cuts across the state will reduce cuts to the state Department of Education to just 2.5%, which will restore $123 million “back into the classroom,” Ige said.
But the state’s revenues for January remained down 9.4% from the same time last year, meaning cuts remain part of the state’s financial plan, Ige said.
“We still have a significant budget shortfall,” he said.
The state had been looking at a $1.4 billion shortfall in each of the next four years, but Ige could not immediately identify the most recent shortfall estimates. The island economy “will not fully recover” until at least 2024, he said.
Potential layoffs of perhaps thousands of state employees remain off the table until the next fiscal year begins July 1, and Ige said his administration continues to negotiate with unions representing state public workers.
“We are not having the revenues that can support pay raises at this time,” Ige said. “We need to see labor savings right now.”
The Hawaii State Teachers Association on Sunday told its 13,700 members that the administration’s proposal included several objectionable demands, including:
>> Elimination of 21 hours of paid professional development and a 9.23% across-the-board pay cut for the next four years.
>> No increase in employer health plan premium contributions for the next four years.
>> Elimination of a $2,500 probationary bonus.
More financial assistance is likely on the way in the form of a new round of federal stimulus under President Joe Biden, Ige said.
The next relief package is likely to directly aid states “with flexibility,” a provision not included in the last round of funding. And Ige hopes there will be a priority on public education funding, specifically to spur in-person learning.
The latest round of federal stimulus money also allows both landlords and renters to apply for financial help.
Currently, the renters’ aid goes directly to the landlord. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser previously reported that some applications for rental aid were not being funded because an unknown number of landlords refused to participate — out of the assumption that they did not want their rental operations disclosed.
There are still no plans to provide rent relief for commercial properties, a situation that Ige called “real challenging.”
It’s difficult to create “a level playing field” regarding eviction moratoriums on commercial properties “without unfairly advantaging one side,” Ige said.
Instead, Ige said he supports ongoing efforts to provide direct financial help to small businesses.
In other issues, Ige said:
>> The state can quickly ramp up its ability to administer COVID-19 vaccines once it gets larger shipments. Hawaii has the capacity to deliver more than 70,000 doses per week but is receiving only about 40,000 doses per week.
With more supply, “we could easily scale to 100,000 doses,” he said.
Hawaii has applied for a $175 million vaccination grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Ige said, “We are prepared to rapidly ramp up.”
>> COVID-19 vaccines are free, and any solicitations for payment are a scam by “bad actors in our communities.”
“No one should be paying for a vaccine,” he said. “No one should be paying to cut the line … as some might be telling you on social media.”
>> “Hawaii leads the country in the lowest new case counts and fatalities.”