(BIVN) – Governor David Ige held a news conference on Tuesday afternoon to provide an update on Hawai‘i’s current financial picture, the near-term outlook, and post COVID-19 pandemic predictions.
The update also included a word on a large FEMA vaccination grant and emergency rent assistance.
“We are continually monitoring our state revenues, advocating for federal funding, and doing all that we can to provide much-needed programs to help people in need,” Governor Ige said.
The Fiscal Biennium Budget and Financial Plan was submitted to the State Legislature in December. That month, the federal government passed an aid package to assist with the state’s pandemic response, and Congress is currently considering another aid package.
The Hawaiʻi Council on Revenues in January increased its revenue projections by $2 billion over seven years, the Governor said. He added that the January revenue report shows general revenue funds down by -9.4% for the month, meaning that Hawaiʻi still has a significant revenue shortfall. He said that revenues not predicted to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
Governor Ige said that the Department of Education’s reset its target budget reductions from 10% to 2.5%, which he says amounts to a restoration of $123 million to public school classrooms. With federal aid, any potential furloughs are delayed until at least July.
“I want to thank our Congressional delegation for advocating on our behalf,” Governor Ige said. “They know how important it is to the people of Hawaiʻi that federal aid be directed to the states so we can continue to provide needed services.”
If President Biden’s relief package passes, Governor Ige said the State will be able to increase funding for public school education, fund Unemployment Insurance and repay the $700 million Unemployment Insurance loan from USDOL. The possible Biden package will also eliminate program budget cuts, the Governor said, and help the State to repay the $750 million loan to help make payroll, and establish a statewide broadband network.
“While I’m cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery, it is fragile. Until additional federal aid is approved, we must be prudent and plan accordingly,” Governor Ige said.
Governor Ige also reported that during a morning call with the White House, it was announced that FEMA will be providing funding to the states for the vaccination programs. Hawaiʻi has requested $175 million.
“FEMA has approved our plan and we are waiting for funding to be approved,” Governor Ige said. “The challenge remains – we are simply not getting enough vaccine. We continue to get about half of the vaccine that we have the ability to administer. The White House is working with vaccine manufacturers to get more out. Until we see the results, our vaccination program will be significantly slower than it could be.”
Governor Ige also announced that the state is moving ahead with an Emergency Rent Assistance program, using federal funds received as part of the December stimulus. Households that are unable to pay rent and utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to receive assistance.
The State received $200 million for rent assistance and utilities, the Governor said, and is currently working on agreements related to administration of the program and distribution of funds.
The State says households may receive up to 12 months assistance, with priority given to households where a member has been unemployed. The State says utilities are included in the assistance, and landlords can apply on behalf of tenants. “If utility or landlord does not agree to accept, payment can be made to household,” the State added.