Strengthening our community in the COVID crisisPosted on Dec 29, 2020 in Capitol Connection, Featured
Programs to help families, businesses survive: Even as DOH and community partners managed public health challenges, other state agencies mobilized to help those who lost their jobs, businesses that needed support and families struggling to survive. Much of the immediate aid came from federal Coronavirus Relief (CARES Act) funds received by the state. “Hawai‘i will not leave any of the federal funding unused. We are going to use every penny,” said Governor Ige. Any unspent monies will help repay a $1 billion loan secured for unemployment benefits to local residents.
Help for the unemployed – In the wake of the pandemic, Hawai‘i went from having the lowest unemployment rate in the nation to one of the highest. The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has processed thousands of unemployment claims and paid out billions of dollars in benefits, despite the limitations of its antiquated system to handle the huge surge of more than 200,000 applications. On the job creation front, DLIR worked to connect people to local businesses looking for workers in the pandemic. The RUDDER program assisted 43 employers who hired more than 1,000 new employees. The department’s Workforce Development Council also partnered with the Chamber of Commerce to develop the “Hawai‘i is Hiring” website.
Lifelines for individuals and families – The state Department of Human Services (DHS) continues to help protect individuals and families in the face of a major surge in applications for aid. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) demand increased by 50 percent compared to 2019, and DHS worked with federal partners to ensure timely benefits to those in need. Med-QUEST suspended disenrollments from Medicaid to alleviate concerns about losing heath coverage. And DHS frontline workers who protect vulnerable children and adults have continued to respond to reports of abuse, neglect, harm and exploitation.
The Rent Relief and Housing Assistance Program (RRHAP) provided tens of millions of dollars in aid to renters and homeowners to avoid eviction. Using federal Coronavirus Relief funds, the program, launched by the state’s Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC), aided those impacted by the pandemic. The Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture helped struggling farmers by distributing $448,495 to 196 farmers and organizations in a record nine weeks through emergency relief grants. The department also approved 29 loans totaling over $5 million and acted on leases for 8,000 acres of land for diversified agriculture. The department’s DABUX Double Up Food Bucks program provided SNAP recipients with more buying power for local produce.