Stimulus Checks Won't Cover Even A Month's Expenses in Hawaii

Apr 20, 2020

Eligible residents in Hawaii, and around the country, are starting to receive cash stimulus payments from the federal government. But the one-time $1,200 checks won’t go far in Hawaii.

That’s because the average cost of living in Hawaii is 20% above the national average. The comparison is even worse in the most expensive parts of the state.

To be eligible for congressional corona cash, U.S. residents generally need to have filed federal taxes in either 2018 or 2019. Individual filers need to have earned less than $75,000. Individuals earning between $75,000 and $99,000 will received a downward-adjusted payment. Earners of more than $99,000 are generally ineligible.

Married couples who file jointly and earn a combined income of less than $150,000 will receive $2,400. Single heads of a household earning up to $112,500 will be eligible for a $1,200 payment.

Each child under 17 years old will qualify their household for an additional $500.

But according to Beth Giesting, director of the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center, when accounting for the local cost of living, that $1,200 is worth something like $960.

“In no case does it cover a full month’s expenses,” Giesting told HPR in an interview.

Exactly how far that money goes depends upon  where in Hawaii one lives. On Oahu, the most expensive island, $1,200 doesn’t even cover half the average monthly expenses for a single person.

“A one-bedroom apartment costs an average of $1,500 per month,” Giesting said. “Food is  budgeted for a single adult at $365 per month, and then you have all of the other things like transportation, healthcare, and miscellaneous taxes. So the total for that household is $3,000 per month.”

She adds that the impact of stimulus payments looks a little better for a household with two eligible adults and no children. Such a couple would receive $2,400 in cash, which accounts for approximately 63% of their average monthly living expenses. The ability to split the cost of housing is primarily responsible for the greater relative benefit.

According to Giesting, the stimulus payments will go the farthest on Hawaii Island, the state’s lowest cost region. A couple with no kids on Hawaii Island will statistically get the most benefit from the stimulus, which will cover 73% of their monthly expenses on average.

When it comes to households with children, the math is a little more complicated. Each household gets an extra $500 per child, but also has a larger housing requirement and additional expenses like childcare.

“For that household in Honolulu, housing costs around $2,000 per month. They have childcare expenses estimated to be $1,200 per month,” Giesting notes.

Bu with more than one-third of Hawaii’s workforce currently unemployed and more working from home, parents may be able to save on that expense. Without the cost of childcare, Giesting estimates that the $2,400 sent to a married couple would cover nearly 60% of the expenses for a single month.

When that is added to unemployment insurance, recently supplemented with an additional $600 per week by the federal government, some low-income households could even bring home more money per month than pre-pandemic.