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Hawaiʻi is spending $417 less on services per child compared to 2005, report says

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Casey Harlow / HPR
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Over the course of nearly two decades, the state is spending about $400 less per child than in 2005, according to a new report from advocacy groups Hawaii Budget and Policy Center and Hawaii Children's Action Network.

Researchers concentrated on this year's proposed state budget and compared it to the 2005 budget — a time of economic prosperity prior to the Great Recession.

The report's lead researcher, and former executive director of the Budget and Policy Center, Beth Giesting says they focused on a handful of programs that ensure a child's well-being in budget and expenditure reports.

"That includes public education, economic security programs like housing and child care, children's protection programs like CPS," she told HPR. "But also programs for at-risk youth and Medicaid health care programs."

Giesting says they adjusted 2005's budget for inflation to give a more accurate comparison to fiscal year 2022. The report found the state budgeted $10,562 per child in FY22 — that's a $417 decline from 2005.

Giesting believes there are several reasons for the decrease.

"There has been a decrease in federal funding," Giesting said. "For instance, the Department of Education gets $44 million less in 2022 compared to 2005."

"As far as children's programs, as a proportion of the overall executive budget declining, I think part of that is because the Legislature has been focusing on meeting their public worker retirement obligations."

While state retirement is a fixed amount, Giesting says there are also issues when it comes to what is budgeted and what is actually spent. Researchers found that for every dollar budgeted, about 91 cents is actually expended for their programs.

Giesting tells HPR this is due to a slew of reasons. For instance, departments create annual budgets without knowing how much federal support they will get for the next fiscal year.

"But there are also a whole lot of other reasons why state departments are not able to always spend the budgets that are allocated to them," she said. "Sometimes they can't hire the right people. Sometimes they can't purchase things or it takes longer to do a procurement."

Giesting says if nothing is done, the decline in how much is spent on support programs will continue.

The report makes several recommendations state lawmakers could take to reverse the trend — such as: earned income tax credits, reinvesting in programs for at-risk youth, and maximizing federal subsidies for food, utilities, and child care.

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