Lawmakers reconvene to appropriate virus relief funds

  • Hawaii lawmakers on Monday reconvened their 2020 legislative session to flesh out details for how they plan to spend more than $600 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.

HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers on Monday reconvened their 2020 legislative session to flesh out details for how they plan to spend more than $600 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.

Lawmakers also expect to tackle police reform measures, including a bill that would amend state open records laws to allow the public to learn information about police officer suspensions.

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The Democratic Party-controlled House and Senate suspended the regular annual session in March to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They returned last month briefly to work on the budget after the U.S. Congress appropriated relief money to the states and the pandemic triggered a sharp decline in tax revenue.

House and Senate leaders expect to put $230 million of the relief money toward $100 monthly payments to those receiving unemployment insurance benefits. The payments will start Aug. 1 and last through December and will reach an estimated 117,000 unemployed individuals.

The payments are designed to partially replace a $600 monthly payment the federal government is providing to those receiving state unemployment benefits. This “plus-up” payment is due to expire at the end of July. Lawmakers estimate about 117,000 people will receive the $100 payment.

The House and Senate leaders also plan to spend $100 million to provide housing assistance for up to five months to 34,000 people. Those eligible would receive a $500 monthly subsidy or 50% of their rent, which ever is less, for up to five months starting in August.

Another $56 million will be used to bring back small businesses, support training and job programs connecting unemployed with local businesses in need of employees, and provide manufacturing grants to local companies that can create local supply chains for necessary cleaning supplies and personal protection equipment.

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“The Legislature is acutely aware of the daily challenges facing Hawaii’s working residents. The economic impacts of COVID-19 in Hawaii has further exacerbated the need to support working families. The CARES Act funds will provide immediate relief for Hawaii’s families and local businesses,” said House Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, in a prepared statement.

Lawmakers last month put $635 million of the $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds into the state’s rainy day fund when they returned last month. They expect to appropriate that $635 million during the current session, which is scheduled to end on July 10.

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