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Democratic gubernatorial candidates outline priorities for keiki and families

Kids in a classroom.
Martin Bureau
AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to child and family well-being, Hawaiʻi is 26th among U.S. states. That's according to the 2021 Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation — focusing on the education, health, and economic well-being of local families.

But as the state emerges from the pandemic, lawmakers and candidates are focusing on ways to help local families.

Over the course of a month, the non-partisan advocacy group Commit to Keiki hosted three talk story forums with the top Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

The group, using results from a statewide poll, focused on three priorities: child care and early education, mental health and abuse prevention and intervention.

Former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell didn't provide specifics on how his administration would address those issues, but says his budget will reflect his priorities.

For early education, that means making "significant investments" in two or three areas.

"One is you need facilities," he said. "So how do you make available government facilities that are not being used or underutilized — and make them accessible for early childhood education programs? And I'd also look at ways to maybe incentivize the private sector. Who maybe will get tax credits, if they make some of their underutilized facilities available for early childhood programs."

Caldwell also emphasized investing in child care worker and early educator education opportunities — in addition to raising salaries in order to attract and retain professionals.

For former first lady Vicky Cayetano, she is taking an economic approach to addressing these issues. She says these challenges are connected, and solving an issue like housing, will help fund and expand early childhood options and mental health services.

"If 40% to 50% of your paycheck is going to pay your rent, you don't have enough left," she said. "If you don't have enough leftover, that creates a stress level. And then you have to make decisions on what you choose for your children. And that shouldn't be it."

"Affordable housing is key because it's central to so many of the problems that we have in our community. Diversifying our economy. Why? Because we want our young people to stay here in Hawaiʻi."

Cayetano says the problems that the state and local families are facing can't be solved through traditional methods.

Current Lt. Gov. Josh Green agrees that issues such as housing will help remedy some issues — such as mental health and child care. But Green says he would want to rebuild the state's health and social safety net, which saw budget cuts during the height of the pandemic.

"Quality health care is central to everything I believe in. And so a large scale initiative to have individuals who work in health care and social services has to be instituted," he said. "We'll repay all of their training debt, so that they can actually afford to live in Hawaiʻi, and serve in places like Kaʻū... where the need is great."

In addition to restoring state services and programs, Green says he would like the state Department of Health and Department of Human Services to collaborate more with existing programs.

Green also discussed staffing community centers in order to provide more services, such as health care and mental health, and expand access for residents.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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