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County to spend federal funds on COVID-19 plans

$67M from CARES Act to cover aid, public safety, boost economy

Maui County plans to spend the $66.6 million it’s receiving in federal relief funds on social services, protective equipment, the construction of quarantine sites and other needs to help the county combat and recover from COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the Maui County Council approved on first reading a bill that would include the funds in the county’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget. The bill is expected to undergo a final reading June 5.

Last week, state lawmakers passed a measure that would provide each of the counties a share of the $1.25 billion that Hawaii is receiving under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Once Gov. David Ige signs the bill, the money will be released to the counties, who must spend it by Dec. 30.

Managing Director Sandy Baz told the council Tuesday that funding would be divided as follows:

• $26 million for community support. This would include health and safety measures for child care providers; summer programs; food distributions to local nonprofits; relief programs for farmers and ranchers; shelter expansion for local homelessness agencies; support for elderly care, mental health, domestic violence and special needs; small business grants and loans; workforce development and training; agriculture development and the county’s Hawaii Emergency Laulima Partnership program.

• $16.5 million for public safety. This would include supplies, such as personal protective equipment, masks, face shields and gloves; cleaning materials like disinfectants and sanitizers; and items for social distancing, such as plexiglass, trays and baskets. It would also go toward message boards, training materials, response vehicles and equipment, helicopter service and morgue facilities. And, it would help cover payroll and overtime costs for first responders.

• $12 million for property acquisition. This would cover the relocation and renovation of county offices to allow for social distancing; overcrowding relief at emergency shelters and construction of temporary shelters; and medical care to allow for isolation and quarantining purposes.

• $5.5 million for equipment/services. This would help fund remote work site needs like computer equipment, community broadband initiatives and increased internet and connectivity; vehicles to aid in social distancing and to provide services, such as meal deliveries and assisted transport; sanitizing machines/equipment contracts and supplies; and office renovations to support social distancing.

• $4.5 million for Maui Recovery Initiative. This would go toward economic diversity through new product development, small manufacturing, technology and health; the tourism industry for its recovery, education and transformation to a “new normal”; and food security for farming, animal production and management, commercial fishing and fish farming and food hub and distribution channels.

• $2.1 million for administrative costs. This would pay for special projects, such as quarantine sites, temporary shelters and enhanced information acquisition; public outreach and announcements; remote/online learning and testing; and payroll and overtime costs for county personnel.

Most of the funding and responsibility for contact tracing and testing falls to the state. Baz pointed out that the Department of Health is working with the University of Hawaii campuses, including UH-Maui, to provide educational and job opportunities in contact tracing. The county has also worked with local providers to do testing, and mass efforts like drive-thru testing come with very little financial impact to the county, Baz said.

He added that the county isn’t planning to use the CARES funding to pass out stimulus checks to all residents because it’s more focused on targeted support for people who need it. Honolulu is using some of its $387 million in CARES funds to give residents up to $1,500 a month, but Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez pointed out that this is only for those in need.

As of Tuesday, the county has received 2,820 first-time applications and 629 returning applications under its Hawaii Emergency Laulima Partnership, or HELP, which covers essential needs for struggling residents. A total of 3,449 households (10,027 individuals) are requesting nearly $2.8 million in assistance. The county has processed 2,386 and approved 2,011 with just over $1 million obligated.

Mayor Michael Victorino said Tuesday afternoon that if the county exceeds the $2 million set aside for the HELP program, CARES funding can be used to allow the program to continue through Dec. 30. 

And, under its Micro Business Loan Program, which is open to businesses with 10 employees or fewer, the county has received 152 applications. The 107 applications that have been reviewed are requesting $2.25 million in total; 59 have been approved with $1 million disbursed, while 47 have been disapproved and one is pending. Another 45 applications are also pending review and future funding.

Baz said the county is looking not only at businesses’ needs but also their sustainability for the future.

“We don’t want to just give them a month or two worth of operating funds and then they go bankrupt three months later,” he said. “We want to make sure these are sustainable.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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