Honolulu has just over 100 days to spend more than $300 million in federal CARES Act funds.

As of Friday, the city had spent only $71,651,070 – less than 19% – of its $387 million pot of money. However, more than $221 million has been allocated, meaning the money is approved for a particular program but hasn’t been contracted out yet. Of that, approximately $136 million is committed via a contract.

If the money isn’t actually spent by Dec. 31, the city will have to return unused funds to the federal government.

It’s taken time to set up the infrastructure to be able to disburse these funds, said Josh Stanbro, the city’s chief resilience officer who is helping lead the city’s virus response effort. The city has been very careful about following the federal government’s “constantly changing” guidelines about what is and is not an appropriate CARES expense, he said. Making a mistake could mean that, in the future, the city has to pay back money it doesn’t have.

Pearl Hotel Waikiki front entrance area.

The city is using $1.7 million in CARES Act money to pay the Pearl Hotel Waikiki to house people who need to be isolated or quarantined.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Stanbro expects spending to ramp up now.

“Once you go through all those hoops, it’s going to go faster as you go along,” he said.

Last week, the administration shared with Honolulu City Council members a list of all CARES Act contracts over $50,000. Ordinarily, the council approves or denies administration funding requests, but Gov. David Ige suspended normal budgeting and procurement procedures in his emergency orders.

That means spending decisions are being made unilaterally by Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration.

The list the city provided reflects all allocated funds over $50,000. That includes expenditures whose contract is being negotiated, costs that are already under contract, and goods and services that have already been purchased. The list does not specify what category each allocation falls under. In other words, the breakdown reflects both what the city is planning to spend and what it has already spent.

Civil Beat has asked the city for a list of completed and planned expenditures under $50,000. That information is not currently publicly available.

The available data shows that the largest chunk of money, more than $50 million, has been allocated to the Department of Community Services. Half of that, $25 million, is for the Hardship Relief Program which offers individuals up to $2,000 per month to help with rent, utility and child care expenses.

The program has struggled with bureaucratic hurdles however, and has only actually distributed about $2.4 million to people in need. The department said it’s working to eliminate barriers and get money out to households more quickly.

The Department of Community Services also allocated $17.6 million to the Hawaii Community Foundation to support services including child care, housing and services for homeless people, support for released prisoners, drug treatment and mobile hygiene, according to the city’s spending breakdown.

Other DCS efforts include $3 million to the Hawaii Public Health Institute to address food insecurity, $1.5 million on meals for kupuna, $1 million on Hawaii Foodbank drives and about $3 million on other services focusing on job training and food security.

Volunteers assemble food boxes for a distribution event at Windward Community College on Saturday, July 11, 2020. The event was a collaboration between 14 contractors & developers, The Great Aloha Run, and the Hawaii Foodbank spcecifically designed to serve residents of the Windward side from Kualoa to Waimanalo. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)

Honolulu has spent millions in CARES funds to address food insecurity.

Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

The second largest share was distributed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s office, the spending breakdown shows.

This includes some of the funding for the over $60 million Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund. Through that program, qualifying companies can get up to $10,000 reimbursed for rent, utilities, payroll and costs incurred altering their business to accommodate social distancing.

The mayor also allocated over $1.6 million to the Hawaii Longline Association to “offset operating costs during (the) COVID-19 pandemic to ensure continued fish supply and support local food security,” the spending breakdown shows. His office also gave $660,000 to the Hawaii Seafood Council to “develop a pilot community fish distribution program.”

Other expenditures include $629,000 to hire 15 community relations specialists, $200,000 to pressure wash and disinfect sidewalks in Chinatown, $287,509 for salaries for the director of the Office of Economic Development and three employees in the new Office of Economic Revitalization.

Among the largest recipients of Honolulu’s CARES money – over $30 million – is the island’s police department, which is charged with enforcing the mayor’s stay-at-home orders.

Officers have been aggressively citing people in parks and beaches, residents say, even when they are traveling alone – a situation with little to no chance of COVID-19 spread. Caldwell’s latest order allows a family to visit the grocery store together but not the beach, where one can visit “only by oneself.”

The city’s approach has angered already-stressed residents, baffled epidemiologists and has been cited by The Atlantic as an example of focusing on “personal blame over systemic fixes.” It is well established that the virus is a much greater threat indoors than out, according to scientists, yet the city continues to heavily police the outdoors.

HPD’s large allotment of federal dollars further illustrates the Caldwell administration’s commitment to addressing the pandemic with police.

All Terrain Vehicles parked fronting the Honolulu Police Department Waikiki substation. The HPD uses these vehicles to cite people on the beach and parks. September 2, 2020

Honolulu police officers have shiny, new ATVs at about $10,000 a pop.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The department was granted $13.8 million in overtime funding, nearly $4.7 million for police services officer positions and approximately $1.7 million on new trucks. Officers also now have 45 four-wheelers, ATVs and UTVs that cost about $10,000 each, to ride while patrolling for violators. HPD also got funding for personal protective equipment.

At Thursday’s meeting, Councilman Tommy Waters said the city’s priorities are backwards.

“All this money spent on police to lock people down and keep them in their house when only $2.4 million has been expended to help them,” he said.

In an emailed statement, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the overtime is being used to staff the COVID hotline, fill in for officers who are required to self-quarantine or self-isolate, assist with food distribution and other COVID-related events, and to staff the POST facility for homeless people who are quarantining before they enter shelters.

She said the department also hired 150 temporary police services officers.

“These positions will assist with various duties such as sterilizing vehicles and equipment, clerical support, transporting supplies, assisting at POST, and customer service related duties,” she said. “Taking over these duties helps to keep patrol officers on the road.”

Stanbro noted at a committee meeting on Thursday that the city has needed to step up with funding in areas that should be handled by the state. That includes testing, contact tracing, public communication and renting isolation rooms in local hotels, Stanbro said.

Honolulu is partnering with the University of Hawaii to open a new COVID-19 lab that aims to provide up to 100,000 diagnostic and antibody tests by the end of the year. That’s with the help of a budgeted $3.9 million in CARES funds.

It’s not yet clear how much the city’s 250 to 500 planned contact tracers will cost, Stanbro said, but the spending breakdown shows a $10 million fund supporting COVID-19 services in community health centers including testing, tracing, isolation and wrap-around services.

The city has a $1.7 million contract to rent out the Pearl Waikiki Hotel to isolate people and earmarked $2 million for a communications campaign, including print ads in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and MidWeek.

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi took issue with the amount spent on communications. She said she has noticed newspaper ads urging the wearing of masks, a practice she said everyone already knows about.

The spending breakdown shows that the Honolulu Emergency Services Department got over $13 million. Its biggest expenditure was $1.8 million to buy 10 ambulances. It also has nearly $1.8 million set aside to expand testing, outreach and telehealth at community health centers.

Other expenses include over $1 million to Stryker Medical for 15,000 disposable pulse oximeters, $1 million to rent a warehouse for the city’s PPE stockpile, $400,000 for 10 red trucks, $325,000 to buy 100,000 KN95 masks, and $56,000 to fund the full-time status of the city’s infectious disease officer, Jill Omori.

The Department of Transportation Services has only three contracts exceeding $50,000, according to the city’s breakdown. The largest was the purchase of 27 Handi-Vans for just under $4 million.

In March, DTS also signed a $2.6 million contract for cleaning and disinfection services with H20 Process Systems, a company owned by Milton Choy, a prolific donor to political campaigns. More recently, the department shelled out $126,146 to Hawaii Unified Industries to clean and disinfect common areas at Oahu Transit Services.

Honolulu’s fire department was allotted approximately $3.7 million, covering costs like “rapid response vehicles,” sanitation stations and personal protective clothing as well as nearly $1 million for personal services contracts for firefighters and helicopter pilots.

The information technology department is using nearly $3.5 million to provide services including supporting teleworkers, upgrading software and arranging Webex virtual meetings.

At the city’s driver’s license centers, the Customer Services Department has spent $923,500 on overtime for workers and installed sneeze guards at city offices that interface with the public, the breakdown shows. The department as a whole was allotted approximately $2.3 million.

The Department of Design and Construction has an $850,000 deal with Next Design and J. Kadowaki Inc. for the “design and construction of protective lobby entries” at the Frank Fasi Municipal Building. 

Facilities Maintenance spent $457,000 to repair two broken elevators at the Fasi Building and was allocated $300,000 for cleaning and disinfecting services at city facilities and work sites, the breakdown shows.

The Board of Water Supply’s expenditures include $338,000 to renovate its lobby to “protect Customer Care Division and Water Quality Division employees servicing the public,” $300,000 for a financial analysis of revenues and expenses impacted by COVID-19 and over $55,000 on cloth face masks, according to the breakdown.

Budget and Fiscal Services costs include $170,100 for 10 customer service representative positions, over $125,000 on cloth face masks and over $58,000 to notify property taxpayers that they can pay their bills in installments.

Click on the graphic below to sort the data by date, amount of contract and department.

We need your support . . .

Civil Beat readership has more than doubled in the past year. That’s incredible growth for which we’re so grateful.

But for a small nonprofit newsroom that provides free content with no paywall, readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism. The truth is that less than 1% of our monthly readers are financial supporters.

To remain a viable business model for local news, we need a higher percentage of readers-turned-donors.

We’re almost halfway toward reaching our $200,000 year-end campaign goal. Will you consider becoming a new donor before the end of the year?

About the Author