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Federal aid helped lawmakers plug gaps in budget

Hawaii lawmakers adjourned on Thursday after a 55-day condensed legislative session that started with a nearly $2 billion budget shortfall looming over the state.

Faced with an economic crisis and mounting revenue losses due to the pandemic, Gov. David Ige had proposed staff furloughs and deep cuts to multiple programs and social services. Through a reduction of vacancies in state government, targeted cuts in agency budgets and the deployment of federal funds, lawmakers were able to restores critical social service funding in the budget, according to a House of Representatives news release.

“The $1.6 billion in federal funds received through the American Rescue Plan Act enabled us to plug a lot of gaps in the budget,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, House Finance Committee chairwoman. “In addition, we sharpened our pencils and looked for every cost savings opportunity and dollar squirreled away in special funds to pass a general fund budget that is about 7 percent less than the fiscal year 2021 base budget.”

The state budget passed by the Legislature provides $14.9 billion in general funds, $1.4 billion in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan and $31.2 billion through all methods of funding for the fiscal biennium beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2023, according to a Senate news release.

“These extraordinary times have required us to take unprecedented measures to ensure that we adhere to our constitutional duties of passing a balanced budget while also providing needed resources to our districts and communities,” said retiring Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, whose district includes East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai and Lanai. “What we accomplished this session is just the beginning of what needs to be done to help Hawaii fully recover from the impact of this COVID-19 pandemic.”

Included in the budget is $31 million for cash support for child car, $14.3 million for continued homeless services, $2.6 million for the Early College Program and $5.4 million for additional funding for General Assistance payments for temporarily disabled individuals.

When the 2021 legislative session began, Hawaii was experiencing the tail end of a “second wave” in new COVID-19 cases, visitors were slowly returning and vaccinations were just beginning, the House news release said.

Lawmakers adopted measures to address impacts of the pandemic that included financial support for Neighbor Island health care systems, behavioral health programs and domestic violence services. Lower monetary penalties for emergency order violations have been passed to ease the burden on the justice system while still holding people accountable, the news release said.

With Hawaii still reeling from the shutdown of the tourism industry and unemployment slowly declining, lawmakers also put funds toward the unemployment insurance system and passed a bill to prevent dramatic increases in unemployment insurance rates for employers.

Gov. David Ige has until June 21 to review the measures passed by lawmakers and notify them of his intent to veto.

To track the bills that are awaiting the governor’s action, have been signed or are listed to be vetoed, visit www.capitol.hawaii.gov/advreports/main.aspx.

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