Deadline to spend coronavirus funds approaches


HONOLULU (KHON2) — The state has about six weeks to spend the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund before the year-end deadline. The funds help offset economic impacts from the pandemic, although the state is starting to see some gain from visitor numbers.

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Hawaii’s largest industry, tourism, just had one of its busiest weekends during the pandemic.
University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) Executive Director Carl Bonham said the first week of November was met with an approximate 20 percent increase toward economic recovery from last year.

“We actually saw over the weekend the largest number of daily visitors since we began the pre-travel testing program,” Bonham said. “You can see the relatively higher amount for Oahu.”

A pressing deadline is ahead for the state to finish spending the $1.25-billion of CARES Act money allocated to the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Hawaii Data Collaborative notes that $870-million still needs to be used up before the end of the year.

The data firm’s special advisor Jill Tokuda said there are certain programs such as the ‘Hawaii Restaurant Card’ that are simpler to spend. The card program has spent 80 percent of the $70-million allocated to the $500 prepaid cards which work to aid people receiving unemployment benefits.

Other programs, like the rental assistance initiative, has a slower pace of spending. The state delegated management of the program to Aloha United Way (AUW) and Catholic Charities Hawaii (CCH). AUW has spent 21 percent of the $39.8-million allocated, while CCH has paid-out 16 percent of nearly $60-million of rental relief aid. The non-profits have received about 16,000 applications combined.

“So we got six weeks, 51 days, that they will need to actually spend down. Right now those are the ones with high concern for us.” Tokuda added.

Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki said he looks forward to working with the Biden administration next year and hopes to petition another round of federal assistance.

“Number one, I hope that the administration will give the states more flexibility regarding this spending down of the current allocation of CARES funds,” Saiki said. “And number two, that there will be more relief for states and counties going forward.”  

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