Hawai‘i’s needy families deserve the truth from administration

In response to Lillian Koller’s commentary on welfare funds (“Undermining social services purely political,” Guest Viewpoint, May 28).

What she writes for The Garden Island is appallingly different from what she reported to the Legislature.

First, Koller, the director of the Department of Human Services, states that “the truth is our reserve would not have been depleted in 18 months …” However, a memo dated April 7, 2008, signed by the director herself, shows a negative $16.1 million balance on June 30, 2010. Maybe the “truth” doesn’t matter to her, but it will to her successor and the hundreds of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families beneficiaries.

Second, Koller states that “we have about four times the amount of money in reserve that we spend on cash assistance each year.” Hawai‘i spends roughly $40 million annually on cash assistance payments to families. So, four times that amount of money would be $160 million. The truth is the reserve balance has never been at that level of funding and in the director’s own report she lists a fund balance of only $66.8 million on June 30, 2007.

Again, the facts speak for themselves.

Third, the director continues to live in the “don’t worry, be happy” world of the Lingle-Aiona Administration, claiming that everything is hunky dory and there is no economic downturn. She states, again without any facts, that it is “unlikely” that welfare cases will increase. However, an article in the May 4 edition of USA Today titled “States’ welfare caseloads starting to rise” would seem to indicate that some caution should be exercised.

Director Koller recently told me that she does not follow current events, or read the daily papers, but perhaps she should before making misleading public statements.

Fourth, the director advocates that there is “no need to hoard for a rainy day that may or may not come.” By this logic, we should all drive without spare tires in our trunks and deposit no money in our savings accounts. Unfortunately, in the real world things don’t always go as planned and most rational and reasonable folks don’t spend every nickel and dime; they save a little for that proverbial “rainy day.”

Government should, too.

On May 29, the Council on Revenues projected that Hawai‘i’s economy will continue to decline, and by next fiscal year, the state will be forced to make even more dramatic cuts. Director Koller criticizes the Legislature for not funding grants-in-aid for 2008, but fails to mention that it’s partially because the administration has not even released the majority of grants for 2007, and more than $5 million will lapse by June 30 if the governor does not take action.

As a former legal aid attorney, I understand the hardships of these families, and I would never propose cuts to intentionally hurt those in need. As such, I find her assertions that these reductions are “uncompassionate, unnecessary, and fiscally unsound” to be ethically wrong, irresponsible and disingenuous. She is merely dodging the inevitable hard decisions, hoping to leave them and the foreseeable crisis for her successor.

I accept responsibility for my actions and acknowledge that there will be impacts because of these hard decisions, but these are necessary if we want to be able to provide these services not just this year, but through the next decade as well.

• Marcus R. Oshiro is the chairman of the House Committee on Finance.

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