Show us the money, Council says. Schatz explains CARES Act distribution process

  • Senator Brian Schatz

Honolulu and Maui get millions for mass transit, and Honolulu gets a direct infusion of $387.18 million of the $1.25 billion the state’s getting from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act.

What about Hawaii County?

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That was the question U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz fielded Wednesday during a videoconference session with the Hawaii County Council. Schatz, D-Hawaii, said members of Congress working with the Trump administration on the CARES Act tried to get pro-rata distributions of money for governments, but were unsuccessful.

Under the CARES Act, local governments with populations of 500,000 or more are eligible for direct aid. The remainder of the federal money for government goes to the state, which is supposed to share 45% of that amount with the local governments smaller than 500,000 people.

“This is a battle we lost in the Congress,” Schatz said, adding leaders were concerned about handling the thousands of counties and municipalities with fewer than 500,000 in population. “They were worried about administrability.”

Still, Schatz said, the money for smaller governments that will be awarded to the state will be spread equitably to the neighbor islands.

“The counties’ pro-rata share will land in the state coffers,” Schatz said. “I can assure you the governor and the mayors are working together. … Because we’re working well together, your people will see their equitable share.”

Schatz agreed to address the council at the request of Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz. She said she was concerned especially about not getting earmarked mass transit money — considering the many miles of roadways on the island, the poor shape of county Hele-On buses and the large percentage of poor working families without vehicles.

“When are we going to get our fair share?” Kierkiewicz asked.

The distribution of Federal Transit Administration money announced April 2 by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, comes from the third coronavirus relief package Congress passed last week.

The grants to support urban and rural transit service will help transportation providers respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing funds for operational expenses during this time of reduced ridership, boosting public health and safety efforts on public transit and allowing the purchase of personal protective equipment, among other funding uses, Hirono said in a press release.

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The City and County of Honolulu will receive $90.8 million, the County of Maui will receive $7.86 million, and the state of Hawaii will receive $8.9 million to spend on transit across the state.

“If Honolulu and Maui County got money,” Schatz said, “then I would like to see Hawaii County and Kauai County get their share as well.”

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