Catholic Charities Hawaii sees the reduction of poverty in Hawaii as one of its top priorities.

CCH has programs serving elders, children, the developmentally disabled, the houseless and immigrants. These are among the most vulnerable people in Hawaii. We are greatly encouraged by the continued progress of House Bill 209 through the Legislature because this bill can, and will be, a very effective instrument to address poverty.

We know that rents jumped by 45 percent between 2005 and 2015, while the average wage increased by only 21 percent. It is not reasonable to expect hardworking people to somehow magically make up the difference from their limited resources.

Against this backdrop of high rents and low wages it is no surprise that research shows that the cost of living in Hawaii is 60 percent higher than the national average.

Good State Public Policy Can Protect The Most Vulnerable

All the signals from our nation’s capital tell us that we should brace ourselves for cuts to the programs designed to serve the poor and the elderly. But the signals from our state Legislature tell a different story. Our elected representatives recognize that they have to take steps to counter that harm.

The Working Family Tax Credit will eliminate state income tax bills for 11,000 families with children, and for many of them, provide much-needed tax refunds. That would help them keep more of what they earn and make ends meet.

This bill also improves the renter’s credit, which has not been adjusted for inflation in nearly 30 years. Doing this alone would help more than 80,000 households. That would be a big step towards preventing people from falling into houselessness because they have fallen behind on rent.

HB 209 says that our children should not be the victims of our politics. It is a practical step towards ensuring that our children can go to school, not worrying about whether they will have a meal waiting for them or a roof over their heads when school is out.

This moment in our politics calls for state leadership in a way that is particularly important.

Catholic Charities also welcomes removing the 2017 sunset of the cost of living update for the Food/General Excise Tax (GET) credit. The GET is one of the features of our economy that hits low-income workers particularly hard — about 10 times harder than the top 1 percent.

We adjusted the Food/GET credit for inflation two years ago, but if the sunset is not removed, it will lose about a quarter of its value to those who pay that tax every time they buy groceries and other necessities.

Every day, Catholic Charities Hawaii receives calls from renters facing eviction. Every day we serve struggling families. And we will keep doing it.

But good public policy can go a long way towards keeping struggling families from losing their balance financially, which in turn triggers the kind of stress that affects their mental and emotional well-being. We see it daily in the work we do. That work would be greatly aided by the passage of HB 209.

This moment in our politics calls for state leadership in a way that is particularly important. Passing the tax fairness bill will be an act of leadership and pragmatism in addressing the challenges we face in Hawaii. It would build our strength and resilience as a community.

As Mother Teresa once said, ”If we have no peace, it is because we forget that we belong to each other.”

It’s time to demonstrate that we have not forgotten those who too often suffer in the shadows, and on our streets.

There will be a free public event at St. Andrew’s Cathedral on Friday, April 7 at 6 p.m. featuring experts in tax policy as well as those impacted by it. All are welcome.


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