A program that would have tacked on an extra $100 a week for those left jobless from the pandemic is in limbo after Gov. David Ige struck certain provisions involving federal relief from the state budget Thursday.
A federal “plus-up” of $600 that people have come to rely on is expected to end Friday. Without help from the state, people on unemployment benefits may be looking at increasingly devastating financial situations.
The $100 a week benefit from the state would have come from a $230 million chunk of federal relief funds that the Legislature set aside in June. But the governor wants to wait on Congress to pass another round of stimulus money before he acts.
“If Congress provides no additional benefits, then we could look at doing the additional $100 plus-up that the Legislature has proposed,” Ige said during an afternoon press conference.
The unemployment insurance benefits are just one program Ige is holding back on. The governor vetoed $366 million worth of legislative directives that would have gone to fund programs for rental assistance, workforce development and health screenings at airports.
While programs will still be funded, they won’t be at the levels the Legislature intended. In June, lawmakers set aside about $600 million from the state’s share of CARES Act funds.
Ige said the funding that is being provided should be enough to start those programs, and more money could be spent later if needed. The governor said freeing up those federal relief funds gives his administration flexibility in how to use the money.
“We want to maintain flexibility so we can make adjustments and put them in places most needed for our community,” Ige said.
The governor’s decision was met with a quick rebuke from House Speaker Scott Saiki.
“The Legislature worked hard to direct funding to the most pressing needs,” Saiki said in a statement, adding that the House plans to work with Ige to spend the remainder of the funds.
While a rental assistance program that could provide up to $500 a month as well as a workforce development program in emerging industries could still get underway, the plan for covering extra unemployment benefits is still uncertain.
President Donald Trump and the U.S. House and Senate are far apart on their visions of what the next relief package will look like. There’s no guarantee they’ll reach an agreement, and if no help comes before a recess planned to start Aug. 10, Ige said the funds could be put toward covering the additional unemployment benefits.
The governor is also holding back on $100 million that was set aside for distributing personal protective equipment. Some $61 million will still go toward that effort, but the leftover $39 million could go toward sanitizing materials and supplies, Ige said.
The governor also said he plans to put $40 million left at his discretion toward filling requests from the Department of Education, including additional devices, broadband connectivity, training and other needs. He added that the University of Hawaii has also requested additional cleaning materials and other areas to invest in to accommodate the hybrid class model it’s moving to in the fall semester.
Much of the CARES Act funds must be spent by Dec. 31. More than $7 billion worth of federal relief funds have flowed into the state from various sources.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell