Hawaii’s massive unemployed population dependent on soon-expiring federal assistance

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Monday’s announcement to push-back the state’s planned re-opening of the tourism economy from August 1 to September 1 means an uncertain future for the state’s 22% unemployed.

Nearly 250,000 Hawaii residents remain out of work, and will have their $600 weekly unemployment insurance payment from the federal government expire on July 31.

Hawaii’s US Congressman Ed Case helped the House of Representatives pass a $3 trillion stimulus package called the HEROES Act in May, but the bill has stalled on Capitol Hill. As it’s currently written, the HEROES Act would send out $1,200 stimulus checks and continue the $600 weekly unemployment checks through January.

“Some of the Senators and certainly the President earlier just didn’t support the idea of further emergency assistance,” Rep. Case said. “Now they’re coming around to the fact that it is the federal government that is the only institution in our country with the capacity and the ability to really provide stability as we go through a continued severe crisis.”

The federal government has the ability to create debt, something that states can’t do.

Since March, Hawaii’s tourism-based economy has been on ice, which has led to the bloated unemployment and billions lost in tax revenue.

Projections are that the State of Hawaii would be short $132 million from it’s fiscal budget in 2021, with a billion in losses tacked on every year until reaching $6.4 billion in 2026.

“We are more severely impacted than many parts of the country because we did the right things on the public health side of this crisis,” Rep. Case said. “So the irony is that we’ve had one of the best public health responses and one of the worst economic results as a result of doing the right thing.”

Instead of the extra $600 a week in unemployment insurance, some Senate Republicans and President Trump have floated the idea of a back to work bonus. Case argues that with so many jobs in Hawaii reliant on tourism, the idea won’t work.

“How do you go back to work when there’s no work there? That’s the fundamental dilemma that we have,” Rep. Case said.

With arguments on both sides of the aisle about what reopening did to spurn record numbers of COVID-19 cases, Rep. Case believes that the economy will only rebound once the COVID-19 health crisis is solved.

Until that happens, a quarter of a million Hawaii residents will wait for the Senate, White House, and House of Representatives to come to an agreement to provide assistance before time and money run out.

“I am relatively optimistic that we’ll be able to bring a bigger package out by the end of this month,” Rep Case said. “I think the senate after sitting on it for months has decided that maybe it’s needed after all.”

The House and Senate begin a new legislative session on July 20, with Congress ending on July 31. The Senate will reconvene from August 3-7.

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