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The Latest: 1 Death, 70 New Cases; Maui Group Plans To File Charges Against Bank of America

AP Photo/Steven Senne, File
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2019 file photo a Bank of America logo is attached to the exterior of the Bank of America Financial Center building, in Boston.

Updated 2/12/21, 12:05 p.m.

A Hawaiian housing organization plans to file federal racketeering charges against Bank of America for failing to fulfill a decades-long pledge to provide home loans to Native Hawaiians.

The Maui housing advocacy group, N? Po?e K?kua, filed a whistleblower complaint Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 1994, the bank pledged to address its practice of redlining Native Hawaiians by lending $150 million in mortgages to Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries over the next four years.

"While we respect the issues faced by the native Hawaiian community, this is a meritless claim," said a Bank of America spokesman. "The bank fulfilled its pledge and the state confirmed that in 2007."

Brandon Maka?awa?awa, President of N? Po?e K?kua, says the unmet commitment meant lost opportunities for Hawaiian families.

"From 1994 to 1998, they were supposed to provide $150 million in Hawaiian Homes beneficiary loans so that our people could have a more stable future -- housing, building equity -- in a struggling place for Hawaiians," Maka?awa?awa said.

"I personally feel hurt for the kupuna that are no longer here that originally took on this fight. This organization was started by kupuna on Maui. Their dream was to have affordable housing option[s] for Hawaiians and their dreams got crushed by this commitment not being fulfilled."

An attorney for the group says the whistleblower filing with the SEC is the last step before making this a federal racketeering case.

-- HPR's Ku?uwehi Hiraishi

Where we stand

The state Department of Health reported 70 new cases and one new fatality on Friday. 

According to the state's numbers, O?ahu had 31, Maui 25, Hawai?i Island 5, and Kaua?i, Moloka?i  and L?na?i had no new cases. Seven residents were diganosed out-of-state.

The latest state count brings the O?ahu total to 21,515, Hawai?i County 2,211, Maui 1,926, Kaua?i 179, L?na?i 109, and Moloka?i 26. The number of out-of-state cases totals 777.

Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 26,743 cases. The death toll stands at 425.

The health department says updated information resulted in two cases on O?ahu being removed from the counts.

DLIR getting closer to sending unemployment benefits

Unemployment benefits are one step closer for thousands of Hawaii residents who have been waiting for payments.

That word comes from the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, which says it has completed system updates for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. That will clear the way for eligible residents to extend their unemployment benefits for an additional 11 weeks -- starting from the week of January 2.

The federal government had put the program into effect at the end of last year, but problems with the state's computer system delayed those benefits for Hawaii residents.

The DLIR says it will begin processing roughly 68,000 claims starting on Monday -- running batches of five to ten-thousand claims a night.

"While this is a huge step forward, we know there's still more work to do to ensure everyone receives the benefits they are entitled to," said DLIR director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio in a news release.

It's still not clear when eligible residents will receive those benefits.

More information can be found at labor.hawaii.gov

Honolulu City Council discusses ban on gas-powered leaf blowers

The Honolulu City Council is weighing the pros and cons of banning certain kinds of gas-powered leaf blowers. The Council's public infrastructure and technology committee discussed the proposal during a special meeting held on Wednesday. 

In addition to banning the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers on O?ahu, Bill 68 (2020) would give a transition period to battery- or human-powered alternatives.

Council members acknowledged the benefits of reducing noise and gas emissions, but also voiced their concerns.

Heidi Tsuneyoshi says she is, among other things, concerned with the long-term cost of battery-powered alternatives.

"How do we dispose of things like batteries?" she asked. "We don't anticipate. We look to see 'Oh, battery-powered is better because it's less emissions.' But then, when you look to how you're going to dispose these batteries, and the cost of replacing of the batteries."

Tsuneyoshi says she would like to reduce emissions, but in a way that is reasonable and truly eco-friendly.

She also expressed concerns with the enforcement of the ban.

The Council committee deferred a decision on the measure, and plan to discuss it further at its next meeting in March.

-- HPR's Casey Harlow

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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