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Maui County spends 85% of federal CARES Act funds

All $67M will be spent by year’s end, official says

About 85 percent of Maui County’s federal coronavirus recovery funds have been administered and the remainder will be spent before year’s end, county officials said this week.

As of Sept. 8, Maui County had encumbered about $37 million, with another $20 million earmarked and awaiting approval, of its available $67 million in CARES Act money, according to county spokesman Chris Sugidono.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino and his senior leadership team paced spending to evaluate needs each step of the way, he said.

“During the pandemic, when things change rapidly and needs come up and change over time, we wanted to have the flexibility and ability to mobilize on different areas that require more assistance,” Sugidono said Friday. “We will spend all the CARES Act funds before the end of the year.”

Honolulu received $387 million in April and has spent about $72 million, a recent report said. The state was allocated $1.25 billion from a $150 billion relief fund.

Congress requires money from the national virus relief fund to be used to cover expenses incurred from March 1 to Dec. 30.

Council Budget Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said the task to fund immediate needs while ensuring enough is available come December is “daunting,” and she supported the administration’s CARES Act spending.

“Unlike county general funds, CARES money must be spent and receipts accounted for by the end of year, but our administration has been doing well overall in ensuring CARES funds are strictly used toward justifiable COVID impacts to prevent any reimbursements to the federal government,” she said Friday.

A county coronavirus relief report that covers funds encumbered from March 1 to Sept. 8 shows that about 18 percent, or $11.8 million, went to programs that buoy small and medium businesses, including Small Business Recovery and Relief grants, Adaptability Fund, Pop-up Makeke and Maui Music Hui. Maui No Ka Oi Magazine received about $48,000 to assist county small businesses “increase their exposure and business opportunities” and Linn Nishikawa & Associates got about $37,000 to market and raise awareness for the Kama’aina First Program and COVID-19 Maui Nui website.

Approximately 12 percent, or $8 million, of the county’s funds went to Maui Economic Opportunity to administer grants with Laulima programs that assist qualified residents with utilities, mortgage, rent, insurance or child care.

Also, a little more than 10 percent, or $7 million, went to Maui Police Department to reimburse overtime tied to COVID-19 enforcement measures.

Other county overtime expenditures linked to COVID-19 included $36,864 for Department of Parks and Recreation; about $13,000 for Emergency Management Agency; $7,500 for Department of Housing and Human Concerns Homeless Division personnel; $5,117 for the Parks Division on Molokai; and $900 for Department of Finance personnel support for interisland screening, according to the report.

Maui Health System received nearly $4 million for temporary benefits for its employees for child care and temporary housing due to COVID-19. The costs were necessary to ensure the hospital continues to operate to care for Maui County, the report said. Maui Health operates Maui Memorial Medical Center and Kula and Lanai Community hospitals.

Hale Makua Health Services was allotted $1.5 million for the HealthCARES Hui initiative intended to create job opportunities, expand food delivery outreach and connect those in need with appropriate medical care, personal care or home improvement services. The hui comprises Hale Makua, Hui No Ke Ola Pono, Malama I Ke Ola Health Center, Habitat for Humanity, Hale Mahaolu, Kula Hospital, East Maui Kupuna Hui and Maui Medical Group. 

Sugidono said the $20 million earmarked but pending approval includes recommendations from the mayor’s Economic Recovery or Maui CARES Task Force, which called for financial assistance for businesses and residents, food purchasing programs and senior and student services. The allocations should be formalized in the next week or so, he added.

Urgent needs, such as business relief efforts, were eyed for major funding, Sugidono said. The county provided money to existing nonprofits and community agencies already doing relief work.

“There’s a focus on immediate help, whether rental assistance or food distribution,” he said. “For example, with the farm assistance program, we wanted to immediately assist farmers. We knew there were major disruptions in their businesses and operations. So they needed to help feed our community. They needed to sell their produce before it went bad; it was a perfect opportunity to pair the two.

“We are finding that with the ranchers. The rancher partnership is another opportunity to assist ranchers who have seen declines in their business, at the same time, us being able to buy their cattle and use that to produce food for people in need.”

More than $1 million went to purchase food via the Maui County Farm Bureau, Hawaii Farmers Union United, Feed My Sheep, Maui Food Bank, along with individual farm businesses, and distribute food to residents in need on Maui, Lanai and Molokai. The food-related funds also went to purchase meals for seniors and residents at shelters.

The county also looked at how to diversify spending, Sugidono said.

“We wanted to get the biggest bang for our buck and make sure we’re not overlapping too much when it comes to goods and services,” he said. “With the micro-business loan, the Kokua Relief Fund, we are targeting different types of people and sizes of businesses.”

Rawlins-Fernandez said the administration has done a lot to help local small businesses, who are “really hurting.”

However, “more financial support and broader inclusion of home businesses and smaller-scale, local farming operations, who currently do not qualify for the small business grants being offered to brick-and-mortar businesses, would be really beneficial,” she added.

Rawlins-Fernandez said each county’s administration is required to consult with its council on how CARES funding is appropriated and expended.

“I have been scheduling this item in my Economic Development and Budget Committee at every meeting to help closely monitor and guide the use of the funds by providing ideas to best serve our communities; financial assistance for food, housing, and economic recovery were shared highest priorities for both the council and the administration,” she said.

Sugidono said the mayor and his senior leadership team, including the managing director, deputy managing director and budget director, determine how money is spent. Decision-makers looked to recommendations from the mayor’s MauiCARES Economic Recovery Task Force comprising about 30 industry leaders and county officials.

Task force member Buddy “James” Nobriga, whose family owns Maui Soda and Ice Works, said funding decisions have been satisfactory.

“I think the mayor is acting with the best of intentions,” he said Friday. “From a business standpoint, it’s hard to argue with any of the current allocations.”

* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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MAUI COUNTY CARES ACT SPENDING

The top recipients of more than $1 million of federal CARES Act funding and what the money was used for:

• $8 million. Maui Economic Opportunity to administer Hawaii Emergency Laulima program grants.

• $7 million. Maui Police Department for reimbursement of overtime expenses for personnel tied to enforcing COVID-19 measures.

• $6.4 million. Maui County Federal Credit Union to provide grant funds for Small Business Recovery and Relief Program (two rounds).

• $5.2 million. Maui Economic Development Board for Adaptability Fund for county businesses to reopen safely, retool operations and expand customer markets virtually.

• $3.8 million. Maui Health System for temporary benefits for employees for child care and temporary housing.

• $1.5 million. Hale Makua Health Services for HealthCARES Hui, which creates job opportunities, expands food delivery outreach and connects those in need with appropriate medical care, personal care or home improvement services.

Maui County CARES Act spending by four priorities:

• Economic support (economic support for individuals, nonprofits, families and small businesses to alleviate financial adversities linked to COVID-19), $24.5 million.

• County expenditures (funding to facilitate compliance with COVID-19 related public health measures), $21.1 million.

• Public safety (payroll and other expenses for public safety, public health and employees whose services are dedicated to mitigating or responding to COVID-19), $12.5 million.

• Community needs (food banks, homelessness, child care, food purchase and distribution programs), $8.5 million.

Source: County of Maui coronavirus relief fund report of encumbered funds March 1 to Sept. 8

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