Editor’s note: Hawaii is facing an unprecedented economic crisis, with unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression. Civil Beat’s new series, “Making It. Or Not,” tells the stories of people in Hawaii who are struggling — and finding creative ways to make ends meet — in the pandemic economy. Email makingit@civilbeat.org to share your story.

Kit Furderer hasn’t worked a wedding since February. 

Couples are starting to book his photography services for their 2021 celebrations, but Furderer said he’s not collecting any down payments. He can’t afford to refund any more payments if COVID-19 continues to upend the wedding industry.

Since March, he has already had to refund money to more than 40 clients who have either postponed or cancelled their Hawaii wedding. That’s money that Furderer said he’s already spent.

Kit Furderer and his wife Alison, son Judah and dogs Lucy and Beau are scraping to get by on $500 in weekly unemployment payments through the state Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Courtesy: Kit Furderer

But Furderer doesn’t rely on one income source. He is furloughed from his job as the creative director of Holo Holo Charters, a Napali Coast and Niihau boat tour company on Kauai that has shut down due to the absence of tourists.

He also operates a small web design and marketing business. 

Before COVID-19, Furderer said his combined income from these three ventures brought in six figures a year.

“I had to work two or three jobs to be able to afford a home here,” Furderer said. “That was a choice that we made as a family. But now we’re in a tough spot. It’s almost like the choice is either sell your house or move off Kauai.”

On his own street, a rural road with eight house lots, two families have sold their residences since March in response to the pandemic recession, Furderer said.

Families from Oklahoma and Texas bought the homes sight unseen and moved in, spending their first two weeks on the island in mandatory quarantine, Furderer said.

Selling his home is a last resort that Furderer said he doesn’t even like to think about.

For now, he and his wife Alison and his son Judah are living off $500 in weekly payments from the state Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, or PUA. 

Furderer’s wife, who works as a model and actress, is not receiving any government assistance for lost work. Her PUA application has been pending since March, he said.

Furderer said his family can continue to scrape by until December. But if the economy doesn’t start to open up by then, something has to change.

It’s almost like the choice is either sell your house or move off Kauai.” — Kit Furderer

He’s preemptively laying the groundwork for a new, bigger marketing and design company so that if his finances don’t improve, he can change gears and launch an enterprise built to withstand the COVID-19 economy.

But it’s hard to launch a new venture when you’re hardly making any money, he said.

“I see a lot of opportunities,” Furderer said. “But I can’t jump on them right away. I have to put a little hope in the system that it’s going to come back by December. And if it doesn’t come back in December, then I’ll have something in my pocket ready to go.”

For Furderer, all these months without work have been painful. But they’ve also produced a silver lining: Plenty of quality time with his family.

“Going hiking and seeing my son surf at four years old and seeing him snorkeling and seeing his first turtle, and his mind’s blown, that’s the blessing in this,” Furderer said. “When things do come back, maybe I’ll start cutting back my hours a bit.”

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