Help Needed … NOW!The Hawai‘i State Legislature must address the economic impact of the pandemic on our residents. Help is needed NOW. Having recently returned from a visit with our families on the mainland, it was clearly evident tourism is not back from what we saw on the plane. Fewer than half the seats were occupied. Middle seats are kept empty to maintain some form of social distancing, and services are very much limited to non-alcoholic drinks, no food, no snacks. This is a glaring contrast to pre-COVID-19 flights when every time we came home from mainland visits, planes were full, services were excellent, food and snacks were mostly okay.
An assurance of personal safety was felt by all passengers with everyone wearing masks or face shields for the entire five to six-hour flight. Based on my recent observation on our flight back to Maui and our many recent walks at Wailea Beach Boardwalk, usually a popular tourist destination, not many visitors are back to the island to enjoy the beauty of Maui. I must admit we kind of like not having too many visitors crowding our beaches and highways. We are very much concerned, however, about the economic impact brought on by the drop in tourism numbers—the primary driver of our economy. Many of our families, friends and neighbors are seriously impacted by this unprecedented economic crisis. Many lost their jobs, some are working for very limited hours and as a result, many are unable to pay for rent or mortgage, buy food or enjoy entertainment with their children and loved ones. This is increasingly evident in the long lines at free food distribution centers around Maui.
According to recent reports, Hawai‘i is in its worst economic crisis, with very high unemployment causing great suffering among our residents. Yet, there is no immediate economic relief in sight. What is our Legislature planning to do during this session, to bring needed relief to our residents? What is our Legislature doing to improve our economy during this current session?
One economic report informed us recently that the State anticipates a daunting $2.3 billion budget shortfall in each of the State’s biennium 2021–23 budget years. Even more daunting and alarming is a projected budget deficit increasing to approximately $6.4 billion in 2026, as disclosed in Governor Ige’s proposed budget. With this huge hole anticipated in the proposed budget, balancing the State budget will surely be the toughest challenge facing our State Legislature during the 2021 session. There are no easy solutions in view to date. We can expect budget cuts on essential programs that will further impact the quality of life for many of Hawai‘i’s residents. Cutting funding for programs will have many long-term effects on our residents. Now, the Legislature faces two questions: “How do we avoid cuts on programs?” and “How do we generate revenue to sustain essential programs that our residents need most now?” Concerns must reach our legislators. Contact your Senator or Representative directly by text, by phone, by email or personal appointment.
Recent reports also reveal how the COVID-19 pandemic has severely hurt a robust and thriving economy, once the best in the nation and now the unemployment rate on Maui is the highest in the nation. What do we do? What can we do? Here are a few thoughts:
• Figure out individually what each can do to help;
• Come together as groups—families, friends, neighbors—to discuss what is most needed by every person and each group;
• Formulate a plan for assistance to individuals and groups by priority of need;
• Create a collective agreement for targeted use of resources based on each person or groups’ ability to share what they have;
• Within the guidelines for safety and health, meet regularly to give each other moral support, encouragement, and spiritual uplift;
• Communicate often in an attitude of gratitude, with a spirit of aloha, and acknowledgement that being together helps us all;
• Be mindful and kind in every interaction, virtual or in person; and
• Most importantly, get into these behaviors and make them your habits: wear a mask; wash your hands; social distance! Let’s do this together!
With Aloha and Mabuhay!