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Kahele: Broadband potential Build Back Better benefit

Congressman also discusses local issues and projects during Maui visit

U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele said that the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package known as Build Back Better will benefit working families and that lawmakers are working to pass it soon. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAIHEE — Efforts at the federal level to expand education, health care and childcare, push for climate crisis solutions and make further investments in infrastructure could lead to improvements in Maui County like better broadband service in rural areas, U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele said during a recent visit to Maui.

While briefly discussing President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, a 10-year agenda aiming to create jobs, cut taxes and lower costs for working families, Kahele said that there are available federal funds to improve broadband service in rural areas such as Hana, Molokai, Lanai, Kahakuloa and other remote communities.

“Getting more broadband connection in rural areas, especially on Molokai and Lanai, is really important,” Kahele said.

With staff on Maui, Molokai and Lanai, he said that “we as an office do whatever we can to not only focus on Maui, but the other two islands as well.”

Kahele said that the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package known as Build Back Better will benefit working families and that lawmakers are working to pass it soon.

“That’s a super important bill that we’re hoping in the Congress to have wrapped up and on the president’s desk by the end of the month,” said Kahele, who represents Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kauai and the rural parts of Oahu.

There are three parts to the Build Back Better agenda, starting with the American Rescue Plan, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, which was passed in March; the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which includes road, bridge, railroad and broadband expansion improvements, and rebuilding the electric grid; and the human infrastructure component, which is “what we’re working on right now,” Kahele said.

“This involves anything from universal preschool, two years of free community college, completely changing Medicare, where kupuna 65 years and older are available to get dental, vision and hearing as part of their care, and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, extending the child tax credit,” he added.

Additionally, Build Back Better would continue working toward a clean energy future by reducing 50 percent of carbon emissions by 2030 by increasing incentives to make and buy electric vehicles and other technologies in the United States.

With benefits trickling down to communities in Hawaii, the bill also will help connect workers to “good-paying jobs” through workforce development and job training; strengthen manufacturing supply chains and bring jobs home by investing in research and development; expand small business access to credit, investments and markets; invest in home care and home care workers for kupuna and families in need, according to Kahele.

The Build Back Better agenda will be paid in part by making the tax code fairer and holding the top 1.8 percent of the wealthiest and largest corporations accountable in paying their fair share, according to The White House.

This bill would also ensure that anyone making less than $400,000 a year will not pay additional taxes while continuing to receive tax cuts, Kahele added.

Last week, the congressman visited Maui for a few days to meet with community organizations as well as leaders at the Mayor’s Office, Kahului Airport and Maui Memorial Medical Center to address specific needs for the county.

While visiting the Valley Isle, Kahele heard from Mayor Michael Victorino about some of the most important infrastructure projects needed to expedite development of residential workforce housing, including the Waiale Road extension project and the construction of a new wastewater reclamation facility needed to develop new homes and apartments in Waikapu.

“The goal is to provide treated R-1 water for agricultural use by large and small farms in the area,” Victorino said.

The officials also discussed the need for managed retreat of critical infrastructure away from the shoreline in response to sea level rise.

A top priority is to move the section of Honoapiilani Highway by Ukumehame and Olowalu inland “before king tides, severe storms and sea level rise destroy this critical access in and out of West Maui,” Victorino said.

Kahele also met Victorino and members of the Axis Deer Task Force last Monday to discuss ways to manage and control invasive axis deer in Maui County.

At the meeting, farmers, ranchers and environmentalists described how the spread of axis deer has led to the loss of crops and property; there are an estimated 100,000 deer throughout Maui County.

“This invasive species is eating pasture lands intended for livestock and damaging food crops grown by farmers as well as household landscapes,” Victorino said. “Overgrazing is exposing top soil that is washed away by rains resulting in runoff that will damage coral reefs and shoreline ecosystems.”

Strategies and interventions discussed include increasing the availability of U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors to possibly turn a liability into an asset by creating a market for Maui venison.

The federal government’s need for data and future potential funding is tied to a wildlife management plan that will need to be developed by the State of Hawaii, officials said.

While emphasizing the importance of mitigating wildlife and environmental issues, Kahele also mentioned that the county is working on a “big project” with the relocation of the Maui Emergency Management Agency center.

“We welcome federal support to modernize security and technical capabilities in addition to renovating the aging building,” Victorino said.

Serving on both the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as well as the Armed Services Committee, Kahele is also interested in safety and driving access, like the Hana Highway roads and bridges project, or mulling ways to help Kahului Airport accommodate a large influx of travelers.

The congressman is also working with the Maui Vet Center in helping the county’s veteran community, which includes upwards of 10,000 combat veterans, by constructing a community-based outpatient clinic, a health care building separate from the Veterans Affairs medical facility.

Community-based outpatient clinics provide mental health services, management of acute and chronic medical conditions, and pharmacy benefits, and more, which are “important services to have available,” he said.

Kahele told The Maui News last week that he’s excited to return to Congress to continue working on the Build Back Better plan and hopefully get it passed because the bill reflects “really transformative investments in our country in the form of physical infrastructure and human infrastructure that will get this country back on track.”

“We have a sense of urgency to (get the bill passed) now because we don’t know what the Congress will look like after the 2022 elections, so getting it down now is really, really important,” Kahele said.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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