(BIVN) – Big Island state representatives are promoting affordable housing, expanded child care, and tax relief as part of the legislative package of bills introduced this session to reduce income inequality.
According to a State House media release, which featured statements from Big Island reps:
Hawaiʻi’s working families will see real benefits in affordable housing, expanded child care, and tax relief from a joint House and Senate package of economic bills being introduced during the 2020 Legislative Session.
House Vice Speaker Mark M. Nakashima (Hamakua, Hilo) said that the joint legislative bill package is in response to the issues highlighted in the Aloha United Way sponsored report, “ALICE: A Study of Financial Hardship in Hawaii.”
The ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report describes the economic hardships facing many working individuals and families in Hawaiʻi. According to the report, after allocating monies to pay for expenses such as housing, child care, food, taxes, health care, and transportation, a family of four needs to earn roughly $77,000 a year simply to survive.
“We need to make Hawaii affordable and this proposed package is an aggressive effort toward realizing that goal. It addresses the high cost of living in Hawaiʻi with solutions that will directly support individuals and families who are struggling the most to make ends meet,” said Vice Speaker Nakashima (Hāmākua, Hilo). ” This package focuses on removing economic barriers, the income inequalities, that keep nearly half of our residents living pay check to pay check. We are increasing wages and tax benefits, investing in child care and early learning, and creating more affordable housing units to end the cycle of poverty, increase economic stability and expand the middle class.”
This is the first joint House and Senate legislative bill package since 2004 and it has the strong backing of the Governor and community advocate groups.
“Everyone worked very hard on this package to provide economic support for working class families that really need help to be able to buy a home and provide child care for their children,” Representative Joy San Buenaventura (Puna) “Over the past three years, the state has experienced a population loss due to the high cost of living and lack of affordable homes. Costs continue to rise, keeping homeownership outside the reach of many residents. We must allow working families to be able to grow and prosper in Hawaiʻi. To do that they must be able to afford the basic necessities of life.”
The economic package includes:
– Targeting tax relief for working class families and individuals,
– Increasing the minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2024,
– Providing $75 million in General Obligation Bonds for the neighbor island counties to defray affordable housing infrastructure costs,
– Providing tax exemptions for developers to build market priced homes,
– Expanding childcare options for parents to all university sites statewide and in rural areas with limited childcare options,
– Creating a new Schools Facilities Agency and allow DOE to focus on education.
Reducing Income Inequality
To put money back into the pockets of residents, one measure will provide tax relief for working families by making the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) refundable and permanent. That means qualified families can get a cash refund of up to $380 through this tax credit.
According to the ALICE report, minimum wage is not enough to live on. This package includes a bill that will provide incremental increases in the minimum wage bringing it to $13 an hour by 2024.
“Putting more dollars back in peoples’ pockets is the most efficient way to help offset Hawaiʻi’s high cost of living. A minimum wage increase combined with tax relief measures will help working class families to make ends meet by directly increasing their income,” said Nicole E. Lowen (Kailua-Kona, Hōlualoa, Kalaoa, Honokōhau.)
“Raising the minimum wage alone is not a solution to providing economic stability,” said Rep. David A. Tarnas (North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala). “This package looks at the larger picture of what families need and how to provide it.”
“Improving the lives of Hawai‘i’s people, especially our hard-working middle class and our most vulnerable families, is why we stepped up to serve. It has always been my goal to ensure that we strengthen Hawai‘i’s families, from our keiki to our kupuna – everyone thrives. It takes bold, collaborative efforts like this to bring the kind of changes our people deserve,” said Senator Dru Mamo Kanuha (Kona, Ka‘u).
Increasing Affordable Housing
Many in Hawaiʻi cannot afford to buy a home, especially when they have to compete with outside investors with deep pockets. To address this issue, the state will identify publicly-owned properties that can be used to develop 99-year leasehold units. Half of those homes will be reserved for working-class families earning 140 percent of the area median income (AMI).
The state will also invest $75 million in General Obligation Bonds on the neighbor islands to defray affordable housing infrastructure costs and offer a General Excise Tax exemption for projects that meet the goal of 140% AMI or below.
“Working families must be given the opportunity to purchase a home of their own if we are going to keep our residents from moving to the mainland,” said Representative Richard P. Creagan (Naʻālehu, Ocean View, Capt. Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona). “Families need to be able to build a future here from themselves and their children.”
Access to Learning for all 3- and 4-year-olds
The lack of affordable child care serves as a major barrier for families trying to better their economic circumstance. Many families are forced to forgo child care and early learning for their children and those who do budget for child care spend about one-third of their incomes on it.
To solve this problem, this package contains a bill to create a public-private model to increase the capacity at existing private childcare facilities supported with public funds and also develop new facilities for early learning programs for 3- and 4-year-old children where they are needed.
State-owned sites in rural areas and on all the university campuses will provide space to expand the number of early learning centers.
“Lawmakers have been trying to find ways to provide early learning access for decades,” said Representative Chris Todd (Hilo, Waiākea, Keaukaha, Panaʻewa). “We should support expanding opportunities to create these much-needed early learning centers.”
Building Educational Results
In order to allow the Department of Education to closely focus on its primary purpose of teaching our children, the legislature proposes to create a new Schools Facilities Agency to oversee major construction and repair projects in our schools.
The Governor will appoint an executive director for the new agency which will be responsible for all public school construction except for repair and maintenance projects that cost $100,000 or less.
“Allowing the DOE to focus on teaching our children rather than construction and repair projects will be a great benefit for our students, parents, and teachers,” said Representative Richard H.K. Onishi (Hilo, Kea‘au, Kurtistown, Volcano, Pāhala). “It is a matter of not having to worry about issues outside of their primary mission.”