HONOLULU (KHON2) — The governor has signed a bill to release hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding to fight COVID-19. The state legislature had proposed that the governor spend more of the CARES Act money. But the governor says he wants to first see what Congress does with the next round of federal aid.
One big chunk of money the governor is holding back on, $230 million for unemployment benefits. He says he first wants to see if Congress will continue with providing the plus up benefit of $600 a week. Congress could bring it down to $200 a week.
“I do believe that the reduction in the $600 plus up will have significant impacts on those who continue to be unemployed,” said Gov. David Ige.
The $230 million will only be enough to provide $100 a week, so the plan is to add it on top of what Congress provides if it’s significantly less than the $600. For now, the governor plans to spend some of the money on improvements to fight the pandemic.
Seventy million dollars for airport screening, $50 million for rental and housing assistance, and $61 million for Personal Protective Equipment for hospitals and elderly care centers. But even those amounts are considerably less than what the legislature had proposed.
“The reduction would give us the ability to appropriate funds to provide rental assistance in this critical time of need,” said Ige.
Still in question is how to avoid pay cuts or layoffs for state workers. The governor says a lot will also depend on what the federal government can provide.
“We are monitoring and advocating for support from the federal government. We do need significant federal support in order to avoid layoffs or pay reductions for public employees,” said Ige.
House Speaker Scott Saiki sent a statement saying he’s disappointed that the governor reduced funding for important items. He says the $600 plus up benefit will expire July 31 so unemployed residents can’t wait for Congress to act. The money has to be spent by the end of the year. So he says, “The House will work with the Governor to reallocate the vetoed funds to ensure that they are spent on our most pressing needs prior to December 31.”