U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz is hopeful that both houses of Congress could pass a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package by mid-March that would prevent the layoffs and furloughs of Hawaii public workers, help keep island businesses afloat and prevent renters and homeowners from losing their homes while extending unemployment benefits.
Schatz responded to a range of questions during an appearance today on the Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii, in which he hoped to get students back in school after spring back — while working through school employee unions’ collective bargaining agreements.
And as a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, Schatz said he intends to help the city’s troubled rail project but wants to give Mayor Rick Blangiardi and the interim head of the project time to develop a new plan.
“But I ain’t going to be able to find $2 billion,” Schatz said.
Blangiardi and Lori Kahikina, the interim CEO and executive director for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, need to be candid with both residents and the Federal Transit Administration on what’s realistic and “as straightforward as possible about the fiscal plan,” Schatz said. “People are just sick of being told a fantastical story that there’s a magical solution.”
Unlike the first two federal relief packages in 2020 under the administration of Donald Trump, Schatz said the new federal aid expected from President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to directly fund county and state services, which Democrats have wanted.
Locally, Schatz said, the new stimulus is expected to provide “money for state government to be able to plug the budget hole. They’ve been delivering services but they just don’t have the revenue because tourism has taken a nose dive.”
The stimulus is also aimed at the biggest investment in native communities ever, while providing more COVID-19 vaccine, helping schools and county government and provide rent and mortgage relief.
“It could be enough to prevent all layoffs and furloughs,” Schatz said. “… If our collective objective is to simply survive this moment until we have enough vaccinations and enough herd immunity that we can get our lives back and our economy back, I think it’s going to be enough … to prevent the layoff of public workers or the furloughing of public workers. This is my No. 1 priority.”