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In this time of crisis, we need to look out for one another

Our County

September is Suicide Prevention Month, a time to raise community awareness of tragic losses of lives, especially now while people cope with unprecedented stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We should watch for signs of depression and ask if anyone needs help. A despondent person might withdraw from friends and family, lose interest in usual activities or show signs of sadness, hopelessness or irritability. For more information about suicide and suicide prevention, visit health.hawaii.gov/injuryprevention/home/suicide-prevention/information/.

Many of our residents are experiencing emotional strain with job losses and cutbacks in working hours. In July, Maui County’s unemployment rate was 21.3 percent, the state’s highest.

Thankfully, Hawaii has been approved for a federal grant that will allow Hawaii to add $300 per week to checks for unemployed people, on top of their regular unemployment benefit. Payments are retroactive to Aug. 1.

My administration has worked tirelessly to provide help whenever possible, using county and federal CARES Act funds to lend a helping hand.

Dozens of countywide food distribution events have provided thousands of bags to food to residents in need, and the county-sponsored Hawaii Emergency Laulima Partnership program has helped more than 5,000 households and 19,000 individuals. The program has provided more than $3 million in assistance for food, rent, mortgage, utilities and other necessities.

Mahalo to Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. for administering this program. To apply, visit meoinc.org or call 249-2990.

For people without housing, the county Department of Housing and Human Concerns has contracted for homeless outreach services. Trained professionals go out to beaches, fields and streets to offer people temporary shelter and permanent housing. Currently, 12 of 23 pallet homes at Waiale Park are available for people seeking temporary shelter.

Homelessness won’t end without permanent housing, and it’s noteworthy that the Maui Homeless Alliance has reported that 914 people have transitioned from being houseless into permanent housing. This is a tribute to dedicated case managers, those working at Family Life Center, Ka Hale A Ke Ola, Mental Health Kokua, Steadfast Housing and the Salvation Army.

The DHHC has helped coordinate a CARES Act grant for Mediation Services of Maui. This will provide mediation and negotiation services so staff and community volunteers can work with renters and landlords to explore ways to devise payment plans for families to maintain housing.

Another county initiative, the Micro Loan program, is being administered by the Maui Chamber of Commerce. So far, this program has helped 80 companies obtain nearly $1.43 million in loans.

Another $283,500 remains available. Eligible businesses are those with 10 or fewer employees and with sales revenue of $750,000 or less.

For more information or to apply, call the Chamber at 244-0081.

More CARES Act assistance for small businesses is available through our Kokua Maui County Small Business Recovery & Relief Fund. Recently, we added $3 million to this fund for a total of $6 million.

With the help of six local federal credit unions in Maui County, this program has provided grants of as much as $7,500 to 557 small businesses on Maui and Molokai. Nearly $96,000 was awarded to 19 businesses on Molokai.

Recent program changes make it easier for businesses to receive grants. For more information, visit mauinuistrong.net/kokua -maui-county or call (808) 270-5745.

More CARES Act help is available through a $200,000 county commitment to help Maui’s ranching community and $1.5 million for the HealthCARES Hui, an initiative that emerged from the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force.

The Hui aims to create health care jobs and expand services for kupuna and families. Administered by Hale Makua, program funding pays for hiring and training staff, expanding nutritious food delivery and providing resources and care management.

Also collaborating are 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.

I’m inspired to see so many in our community pull together to help one another survive these dark times. I have faith that our strength and resiliency will make Maui County stronger than ever before.

Aloha!

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month.

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