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Kama‘aina first or jobs first?

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

In June, Mayor Victorino launched the program, “Kama’aina First,” encouraging businesses to provide discounts to residents for services, entertainment, products and restaurants via a one-stop website. Though it’s a well-intentioned gesture, the program has put the cart before the horse.

I’m concerned this program hinders small businesses that are already struggling and lacking customers. Businesses are being encouraged to offer discounts in a time where they are fighting to keep their doors open.

Business owners have reached out to me expressing their hardships, sharing that they can’t afford to provide discounts because they are already struggling to make rent and pay salaries.

Another concern is this program encourages the public to support these businesses during a time when people are facing the impacts of job loss and navigating the uncertainty of unemployment benefits.

While I encourage businesses and individuals that have the means to use this program, it’s irresponsible for the county to promote a program that encourages spending on non-essential items when people are experiencing so much hardship.

Many constituents have shared that they have diminished their savings and lost unemployment benefits, which makes it hard to put food on the table and pay bills.

How can we ask people to spend money when they are out of work with no consistent source of income?

In a time when we as a community are facing unprecedented hardships, we should be putting people back to work, not asking them to spend money they don’t have.

On Sept. 23, Mayor Victorino announced the results of the MauiCARES Task Force, which was charged with providing recommendations on economic recovery.

I’m pleased the task force studied the need for programs that will boost employment, business operations and training. However, it’s unfortunate this effort comes four months after the mayor asked the council for recommendations on how to use CARES Act funding.

In May, the council provided the mayor with an extensive list of recommendations, including the following:

• Hire temporary employees

• Provide direct financial assistance to families and businesses

• Expand health care services, staffing and equipment

• Provide solutions to families’ needs for child care and senior services

• Provide grants to farmers

• Re-train unemployed workers for new fields

• Provide shelter to houseless residents

Had the administration implemented the council’s recommendations over the summer, the county could have helped more families by reducing the need for public assistance, providing job opportunities and supporting stabilization to businesses. All of this would have contributed to revitalization of our economy and steering our community in a more sustainable direction.

This raises the question, why did the mayor waste four months to obtain recommendations from a task force that was already provided him by the council?

During the four months it took the task force to provide recommendations, the county was experiencing months of the highest unemployment in the country; unemployment benefits were drastically cut; and a second stimulus never emerged.

I’m pleased the task force included my recommendations to implement temporary hires, increase the Hawaii Emergency Laulima Partnership and enhance business assistance, including through job training, internships and a reassessment of operations.

I agree with the recommendations of the task force that the county and the state should focus on diversification and retooling our economy to reduce reliance on the hospitality industry. It’s an overreliance on tourism, of course, that has caused our economy to implode when the industry came to a sudden and lengthy pause.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Hawai’i had the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 20.3 percent for the week that ended Aug. 22. Maui County continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the state at 22 percent.

These staggering statistics should be enough reason to redirect our focus, primarily on generating jobs.

I also agree with the task force that we should focus on job creation in the information technology industry, health care and diversified agriculture — all key to a prosperous, healthy, sustainable future.

We need jobs now. I urge the mayor to quickly implement his task force recommendations and not delay implementation as was done with the council recommendations.

* Mike Molina is chair of the Governance, Ethics, and Transparency Committee. He holds the County Council seat for the Makawao, Haiku, Paia residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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