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Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: How many Hawaii people are on food stamps?

Question: This latest unofficial shutdown has been brutal for some of us. The governor told tourists not to come right before the plus-up expired. I am requesting food stamps for the first time. It’s easy to count COVID-19 tests but what about everything else?

Answer: Many readers are expressing similar concerns, sometimes from opposite points of view. Kokua Line has heard from individuals like you who had hoped to be working full time by now, only to have those hopes fade after Gov. David Ige urged visitors to stay home in late August, amid Hawaii’s delta surge; federal unemployment benefits, including the “plus-up” of $300 a week, expired the first week in September. We’ve also heard from readers concerned that the government’s focus on COVID-19 case counts obscures other statistics those readers consider more alarming, including the number of Hawaii residents relying on taxpayer-­funded assistance for everything from food to rent to medical insurance.

To answer your basic question, yes, government agencies do track the usage and cost of benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps; Medicaid health insurance for the needy; and unemployment compensation. These and more are among what you describe as “everything else.”

To cite a few examples, Hawaii had a total of 189,956 SNAP recipients in September, according to the state Department of Human Services, which is down from the pandemic­-era peak of 206,226 in July 2021 but higher than a pre-pandemic total of 152,252 in February 2020.

In 2019, before Hawaii’s economy was restricted during the pandemic, an average of about $37 million in SNAP benefits were paid per month. Since March 2020, the monthly average has risen to $79 million, according to a news release from the department in June.

As for Medicaid, the department’s website says an “unprecedented” 427,839 individuals in Hawaii received their health insurance through Med-QUEST/Medicaid as of July 16, a 31% increase from before the pandemic. The total accounts for 30% of Hawaii’s overall population and 50% of its children, it said.

Hawaii’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported paying out nearly $6.5 billion in unemployment compensation from March 1, 2020, through Oct. 7, 2021, the vast majority of it through federal unemployment programs that expired the first week of September, including the plus-up you mentioned. Only about $1.9 billion of the total was through the state’s regular Unemployment Insurance program, which is funded by taxes on employers and is the only unemployment compensation program processing new claims. About $4.6 billion came from the now-expired federal programs.

As for other benefits you may be eligible for, there’s rent aid and utility aid for renters available in Honolulu County; the application portal is open, according to the website

Q: My driver’s license will expire while I’m on an extended trip to the mainland. I am a senior with a 2-year renewable license. How far in advance can I apply for a renewal, and how long will it take to receive it after my visit to have it renewed?

A: You can renew as early as six months before your expiration date, and it should take six to eight weeks to receive your permanent license in the mail, according to the city; you should leave your appointment with a temporary license in hand. Regardless of when you renew before your expiration date, you will keep the same expiration date, plus two years. You don’t lose time on the license by renewing at first opportunity. Make a renewal appointment at

Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email

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