House Select Committee on COVID-19 Finalizing Plan to Restart Economy
State must coordinate health goals with business options to reopen economy
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi – The House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness today looked deeper into coordinating the declining number of coronavirus cases with the amount of business restrictions needed to safely begin Hawaiʻi’s economic recovery.
Hawaiʻi Medical Service Association President & CEO Dr. Mark Mugiishi shared charts with the committee on a public health plan nearing completion that has been developed in cooperation between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The plan offers specific recommendations on when a business can reopen based on the level of coronavirus risk in the state.
The model has four levels of restrictions to stop the spread of the virus based on infection levels ranging from complete lockdown of the community, which is where we are right now, to slowly reopening public access until we reach our “new normal.” As the health risks decrease, businesses can incorporate appropriate amounts of public contact, social distancing, and repeated cleaning to reopen.
Mugiishi reiterated to the committee that the four pillars of containment that must be adhered to include screening, testing, tracking, and quarantine measures. Following these pillars will allow us to reduce transmission rate of the disease from one person to another.
Migiishi said the model being presented to the committee has been developed in coordination with Alan Oshima, who is heading Governor David Ige’s Hawaiʻi Economic and Community Recovery & Resiliency Plan, and Major General Kenneth Hara, Adjutant General for the State of Hawaiʻi, Department of Defense.
Dr. Carl Bonham, Executive Director of University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization (UHERO), shared the preliminary results of a survey of more than 600 business and many business associations on what they are experiencing right now due to the pandemic and what it will take for them to reopen their businesses.
Bonham said about one-third of the businesses surveyed have zero revenue right now, but that many expect to reopen when conditions allow at about 60 percent of their previous levels. He said depending on conditions that by the end of May to mid-June, that we could see 40 to 50 percent of our jobs in the local economy return almost immediately. That is about 90,000 jobs, he said. The tourism related jobs will take longer.
U.S. Congressman Ed Case updated the committee on federal funding earmarked for Hawaiʻi. He said of the $500 billion CARE Act supplement passed by the U.S. Congress last week, Hawaiʻi can expect to see about $4 billion to $4.5 billion with funds targeting small businesses, hospitals and health care, and testing kits.
Case said Congress is already working on another bill to further support small businesses, fund social safety nets at the state and county government level, and provide adequate PPE or Personal Protective Equipment, for the medical community.
Representative Richard H.K. Onishi, Chair of the House Tourism and International Affairs Committee, updated the select committee on the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Onishi said the package contains $19 billion in immediate relief to provide critical support to our farmers and ranchers nationwide.
Onishi provided the committee with a report from Senator Mazie Hirono’s office detailing the resources available to Hawaiʻi’s agriculture industry.
Eric Kingma, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Longline Association, said that seafood is not eligible for the federal support because it is not considered meat. He said Hawaiʻi residents eat twice the amount of seafood as other states and the industry is in desperate need of support.
House Speaker Scott Saiki agreed and asked Representative Onishi to follow up on the federal support for seafood.
Kingma also provided the committee with a report on the impacts of the coronavirus on the longline industry.
Pamela Tumpap, President/Secretary of the Maui Chamber of Commerce, urged the committee to work closely with the states of California, Oregon and Washington as we reopen the economy and work to bring tourists back.
Tumpap said the West Coast is a primary source for tourists and aligning with them in recovery efforts would demonstrate our commitment to the region. Tumpap submitted an extensive report by the National Governors Association on steps needed to recover from the pandemic.
Speaker Saiki supported the idea and will ask that Alan Oshima discuss it with Governor David Ige.
The committee discussed specific economic business needs including rent forgiveness, slow processing of unemployment benefits, and the upcoming need for child care for working families as schools remain closed.
Speaker Saiki, who is one of the 100 State Capitol workers who volunteered to be trained to process unemployment claims, said more than 10,000 unemployment claims were processed in just one day last week. He said 580 volunteers are now working two daily shifts Monday through Saturday which he hopes will soon clear the backlog of claims.
For more information about the committee and to see related documents go to https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/specialcommittee.aspx?comm=cov&year=2020.