Hawai‘i House Committee on COVID-19 Develops Plan to Restart the Economy
The House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness has moved from research and planning for Hawaiʻi’s economic recovery post-coronavirus to focusing on the implementation of those plans.
The committee heard detailed presentations by Alan Oshima, who is heading Governor David Ige’s Hawaiʻi Economic and Community Recovery & Resiliency Plan, and Hawaiʻi Medical Service Association President & CEO Dr. Mark Mugiishi.
Phased In Recovery Plan Unveiled
Oshima’s report includes a comprehensive report titled “Economic and Community Pathway to Recovery.” The report lays out the prerequisites to incrementally reopen the economy in three phases: phase 1, stabilization of the COVID-19 cases; phase 2, the gradual reopening and recovery of the economy; and phase 3, building a resilient economy with strong business and job growth.
Oshima said we are now in the stabilization phase and moving cautiously, but quickly forward. Any move to phase 2 reopening must be tied to healthcare readiness.
Mugiishi told the committee that everyone is closely following the number of coronavirus infections on a day-to-day basis and Hawaiʻi may be getting close to reducing some economic restrictions. He said it is unrealistic to think that we will completely eradicate the infection before taking the first steps to reopen the economy, but the four pillars of containment that must be adhered to include screening, testing, tracking, and quarantine measures.
He said the committee this week is preparing work plans with an “aggressive timeline” for all the four pillars.
Based on reports submitted to the committee, the plans will be submitted to a leadership team that has the authority to implement them. That team includes Governor David Ige, House Speaker Scott Saiki, Senate President Ron Kouchi, First Hawaiian Bank CEO Robert S. Harrison, Bank of Hawaiʻi President & CEO Peter Ho, and several leaders in the medical field.
Once approved, the plans will be presented to county and local leaders to adjust to make sure they are feasible before being enacted.
“We often talk about the government and the private sector working together to solve problems,” said Speaker Scott Saiki. “Solving these problems is something that government cannot do alone. We really welcome and appreciate HMSA and other private sector support and resources.”
Hawaiian Airlines Secures 5-Year Federal Loan
Committee member Peter Ingram, Chairman of Hawaiian Airlines, told the committee that the airline has secured a 5-year federal loan to provide liquidity during the crisis. He said it now costs between $4 million to $4.5 million a day to run the airlines.
Ingram said the funds will provide payroll support through the end of September. He said the loan requires Hawaiian to maintain some service levels to points on the mainland, but last week the company was given approval to limit those flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles. He said that will allow them to fly fewer flights with little or no passengers.
Representative Della Au Belatti asked if Hawaiian will continue to carry cargo on its mainland flights.
Ingram said they will, and that those charges are helping to cover their fuel costs.
This briefing included an update on the State’s receipt of federal CARES Act funds and its allocation and disbursement strategy from State Department of Taxation Director Rona Suzuki.
Suzuki told the committee that $4 billion is expected to come to Hawaiʻi through the CARES Act and an additional $10 million for an emergency education program the state applied for last week.
She said some funds cannot be used to replace budget items or to pay for unemployment benefits and they are waiting for federal guidance on specific spending questions. The department will closely watch additional federal funding bills for how it will apply to Hawaiʻi, she said.
Ag and Farmers Adjust to Downturn in Tourism
Brian Miyamoto, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Farm Bureau, gave a presentation on behalf of the state’s agricultural businesses. Miyamoto told the committee that farmers have had terrible losses and need government support to stay in business. He said the state’s 7,300 farms rely heavily on the tourism industry including hotels and restaurants to sell their products.
Miyamoto said with limited cash flow, farm workers have been laid off and many farms are on the verge of shutting down. He reminded the committee that hurricane season is quickly approaching which often hits food producers hard.
Miyamoto said many farmers may not last through the end of May and they need assurances of support to be able to survive the pandemic. With so many people now unemployed, the Food Bank has become their best customer, he said.
He asked the committee to support a food security subsidy program, to help some farmers markets to reopen as soon as possible, to support the Food Bank, and to help expand federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) programs.
“People need to eat,” Miyamoto said.
Speaker Saiki asked Representative Belatti to work with Miyamoto on the SNAP expansion and asked Representative Richard Onishi to check on the status of federal farm grants.
Speaker Saiki said the committee recognizes the importance of agriculture to the state economy and asked Miyamoto to join the committee to keep them updated on farming issues.