Financial cycles go up and down in response to shocks in the environment. The COVID-19 threat represents an unprecedented challenge. However, Hawai‘i has faced similar economic hits in the past, taken action, and recovered. Visitor arrivals have been on an upward trend for decades, but temporary reversals are part of the pattern. Whenever they’ve happened, the economy has been affected and families have needed short-term help to get by. There’s a lot policymakers can do now to help out the people and economies in communities across the state.

COVID-19 Impact Mitigation Strategies

  • Support Med-QUEST’s capacity to enroll and serve low-income people who may be affected by COVID-19. Policymakers should consider expanding eligibility throughout the pandemic period to Compact of Free Association (COFA) migrants and immigrants.
  • Put people to work by investing in public infrastructure projects that complete high-priority capital projects. Prepare to expedite contracts and payments.
  • Keep money flowing to communities and relieve families hurt by work reductions. Take advantage of federally-funded SNAP, Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs. Support the refundable state tax credits that help low-income families. The priorities are the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the Food/General Excise Tax Credit, and the Low-Income Renters Tax Credit.
  • Supplement more of the wages lost to reductions in hours and keep businesses primed to rebound when the economy expands.
  • Take advantage of federal waivers and emergency funding to increase and expand unemployment benefits and paid sick leave. Expand nutrition programs, as well as COVID-19 testing and payment for treatment.
  • Slow the spread of disease. Develop guidance for businesses and schools on closures, work from home policies, and discourage or delay non-essential public gatherings.

Budget Considerations

If budgets need to be trimmed, prioritize funding for the services people need most. Remember, these may be provided under contract by nonprofit organizations, which are employers as well as essential care providers. Cutting funding for these providers was a major fiasco during the Great Recession and policymakers would do well to learn the painful lessons from that mistake.

If necessary, shift resources to cover tax credits and Medicaid increases. Expand state programs that assist with SNAP enrollment and unemployment compensation. Food banks, mental health services, programs that support emergency housing, and those that serve homeless people are all front-line services.