Hawaii lawmakers are planning to withdraw from the rainy day fund, use bonds rather than cash for projects like the Aloha Stadium renovation, and tap unspent money to cover a projected $1 billion budget shortfall due to COVID-19, all in hopes of avoiding furloughs and cuts in state services.
The two legislative money committees, Senate Ways & Means and House Finance, met yesterday to review bills carrying out the plan. Decision-making on the budget measure and related bills is set for later this week.
The state Legislature meeting in the Capitol closed to the general public is reconvening under the cloud of the covonavirus pandemic that has forced about a third of the Hawaii workforce out of jobs since February.
Gov. David Ige earlier floated the idea of a 20% pay cut for state workers, including teachers, to deal with the deficit, but the public worker unions predicably pushed back.
Lawmakers and Ige are at odds over how much of a shortfall the state is facing. Ige says the figure is closer to $1.5 billion over the next 15 months rather than the $1 billion that legislators have identified. But Ige said once the state Council on Revenues issues updated revenue projections later this month, both he and legislators will need to follow them.
Those numbers may be grim. In March, the council projected tax collections would be down from 4.1% to 3.8% for the rest of the current fiscal year but revenues could decline by double digits in fiscal 2021.
To cover a $1 billion shortfall, lawmakers plan to start with $395 million in the state rainy day fund and transfer an additonal $250 million into it from the rental housing trust fund, according to state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Ways & Means Committee. To replace that money, the state would sell general obligation bonds so there would be no impact on any housing programs.
Some $20 million in cash earmarked for the Aloha Stadium renovation project will also be replaced with bond funds. The Legislature would then add $137 million in "lapses," which are restrictions, savings and vacancies from all departments, except the state Department of Education. That department's lapses, $150 million worth, would be added to the pot. Another $71 million in vacancies savings in the second year of the two-year budget would be moved into the rainy day fund.
Lawmakers will also take $25 million from the mental health and substance abuse fund. Dela Cruz explained that the fund has an additional $25 million that can cover spending requests, leaving the remainder available to help cover the shortfall.
House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said the resulting $1 billion in the rainy day fund will be available to the state administration in June -- in time for the start of the next fiscal year that begins on July 1.
The committee also reviewed the allocations from the $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act funding. Fifty-five percent of that will stay with the state and the rest will divided among the counties.
The City and County of Honolulu has directly received $380 million in federal funding since it is the only county with more than 500,000 in population. Hawaii County is due to receive about $80 million, Maui County $66 million, and Kauai County $28 million.
Luke said lawmakers hope that the mayors will work with their county councils in deciding how the money will be spent.
--HPR's Sandee Oshiro and Casey Harlow
DHHL offers rent aid for beneficiaries
The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is working with Aloha United Way to provide eligible homestead beneficiaries with $7 million in rental support. The funds come from the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grants.
The department estimates 2,500 households can be helped. Native Hawaiians who are on the DHHL appliant waiting list who have lost income or their job due to COVID-19 can apply for payment of their security deposit or up to six months' rent.
To apply, call Aloha United Way at 211. More information is also available at the DHHL website.
Demand More Than Doubles at Maui Food Bank
Demand for help more than doubled at Maui Food Bank in April. Distribution more than doubled, too, with 535,000 pounds of food given out through a growing number of locations.
To keep pace, the food bank's 150 partner organizations have increased their hours, with some now operating seven days a week. Maui Food Bank Executive Director Richard Yust said their supply chain has been disrupted just as need is increasing across the county.
"Roughly 65% of our donations typically come in through store donations and from the wholesalers. Now that's less than 10% of the total product coming in. So where do you make up for that? We're purchasing food," says Yust.
"We spent more in the month of April on food than we typically do in a whole year. We spent over $350,000 just in the month of April for food. Even if we had a limitless check book, finding a supply of food is becoming more and more difficult, and it's becoming more costly, the food that you can find."
Yust says the Maui Food Bank is looking for donations and also for partnerships that strengthen local food producers. He says prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, the food bank worked with two Maui farmers. Now they are working with 14 of them, offering community-supported agriculture boxes in addition to non-perishable food and supplies.
--HPR's Noe Tanigawa
Preschool tuition help available for 2020-2021 school year
The deadline has been extended until Friday for families to apply for subsidies to pay tuition at state-licensed preschools.
The Preschool Open Doors program is open for children eligible to enter kindergarden in the 2021-2022 Department of Education school year. Their birth dates must be between Aug. 1, 2015 and July 31, 2016.
The funding is limited and the state Department of Human Services gives priority to underserved or at-risk children. More information is available on the DHS website.
Where Hawaii stands
Hawaii recorded two new coronavirus cases yesterday. The state health department reported that the count is now at 634 and the deaths stand at 17. Oahu cases are at 410, Maui County at 117, Hawaii Island at 75 and Kauai County at 21. There are 11 cases diagnosed out of state.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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