Lawmakers scramble to offset economic impacts of COVID-19

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HONOLULU(KHON2) — As the death toll from COVID-19 nears 3,000, the fear surrounding the virus is creating a ripple effect impacting Hawaii’s economy.

Tourism fuels Hawaii’s economy. Visitors spent more than $17 billion dollars in 2019 according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. As COVID-19 continues to spread impacting travel, lawmakers are struggling to deal with the economic fallout.

In the two short months since COVID-19 first surfaced in China, the virus has spread, wreaking havoc, heightening travel warnings around the world, prompting flight cancellations and creating panic in travelers.

“We’ve already seen a 25 percent reduction in travel between Hawaii and Asia. Fortunately travel between Hawaii and the continental U.S. is still positive,” said House Speaker Scott Saiki.

Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said that, as a short term fix, the Hawaii Tourism Authority is already beginning to focus on marketing more on the mainland.

“We’re going to have to reach out to places that can travel here…We’ll have to reach out to mainland U.S. But even that’s going to be somewhat problematic because I think the whole world’s going to travel a little less,” explained Green.

Tourism is Hawaii’s main source of revenue. If it continues to decline, we could be facing a recession similar to what happened in 2009.

“We lost $2.1 billion in tax revenue over a three year period,” Saiki said.

“And the result of that is the State was in a position that the State had to make cuts. It cut salaries from government workers. But the State also implemented furlough Fridays.”

Saiki said he’s creating a committee focused on dealing with the economic and financial impact of COVID-19 in Hawaii.

“We want equal representation in the committee, and we want the committee to access short and long term mitigation plans,” Saiki said.

The committee will be made up of leaders from the private and public sectors as well as nonprofit organizations and trades.

Saiki will put in his request to the legislature to create the select committee on COVID-19 economic and financial preparedness Tuesday.

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