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Hawaii island group distributes $7.5M in virus housing aid

HONOLULU (AP) — A group of Hawaii island organizations has distributed $7.5 million in federal funds to help pay rent and mortgages for 1,322 households during the COVID-19 economic and health crisis, officials said.

The organizations used their backgrounds in homeless assistance and disaster response to establish uniform applications and coordinate to prevent duplication and delays in distribution of federal coronavirus recovery funds, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

The organizations include Hawaiian Community Assets, Hawaii Community Lending, Hawaii First Federal Credit Union, Habitat for Humanity Hawaii Island, HOPE Services Hawaii, Hawaii Island Home for Recovery and Neighborhood Place of Puna.

“We cannot leave money on the table,” said Brandee Menino, chairwoman of Bridging the Gap, an organization working with island agencies to distribute the rent and mortgage relief. “We don’t want to give any of it back to the state or to the feds.”

Each organization is eligible to use 15 percent of its allotment of $10.9 million in federal funds for staff and operational costs.

To help respond to the volume of Hawaii island renters and homeowners still seeking assistance, county officials issued an additional $1 million in federal funds Friday and plan to provide $1.4 million more this week, said Sharon Hirota, an executive assistant to Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim.

The additional money will help cover rent and mortgage payments for “as many as we could who were still in the pipeline” when applications closed Nov. 5, Hirota said.

There were 1,516 applications awaiting approval on Hawaii island.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.