• Hawai'i House Democrats

House Select Committee on COVID-19 Balancing Opening the Economy with Safety Concerns

Updated: May 13


Honolulu, Hawaiʻi – The House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness today discussed the need to reopen the economy as soon as possible while adhering to health and safety guidelines included in the COVID-19 Community-Based Risk Model developed by the committee.

Carl Bonham, Executive Director of University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization (UHERO), said one important reason to reopen the local and tourism economies quickly is because of the negative effect a closed economy will have on high school and college graduates trying to enter the workforce.

Bonham said during the recession of the early 2000s, young people suffered because good jobs were very hard to find. He said the same could happen to new graduates now and that could negatively affect their earning potential for the rest of their lives.

He suggested that a unified state/county plan for reopening the economy be finalized quickly.

Major General Kenneth Hara, Director of the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency (HiEMA) told the committee that the risk levels and the responses in the risk model are good guides because they can move up and down the scale from red - high risk, to blue - no risk, depending on environmental factors.

Hara said at some point our leaders will have to make the decision to take a risk and move forward on reopening the economy even if it means pushing the limits of what our healthcare system can handle. Hara said he is concerned about civil unrest if economic conditions continue to decline.

Hara asked for Speaker Scott Saiki to help with creating a consensus to determine when the state will move from one risk level to the next.

Chris Tatum, President and CEO of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, said if the economy does not move toward recovery by the end of June, he is also concerned about how laid off workers will provide health care for themselves and their families once unemployment insurance funds run out.

Deborah Zysman, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Children's Action Network, gave a report to the committee on the COVID-19 impacts on Hawaii's child care sector. Zysman said child care was in crisis before the pandemic hit and that there is no economic recovery without child care.

Zysman said parents cannot return to work without somewhere to take their children and with 70 percent of child care facilities now closed and the reopening of public schools uncertain, economic recovery will be impossible.

The report details child care needs and economic impacts, CARE Act funding requests, and short- and long-term recommendations to solve the problem.

Speaker Saiki asked House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti to work with Representative Linda Ichiyama, the Department of Human Services, and the child care providers to refine recommendations for next week's briefing.

For more information about the committee and to see related documents go to https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/specialcommittee.aspx?comm=cov&year=2020.

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