Members of the Hawai‘i Executive Collaborative and their entourage gathered around the table in The Garden Island newspaper board room last week to explain their take on the 2020 Cost of Living Initiative currently moving through the Hawai‘i State legislature.
The package of bills takes aim at elements like minimum wage, education and affordable housing. Around the table were Senate President Ron Kouchi, Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, Micah Kane, CEO and president of Hawai‘i Community Foundation and board member of the Hawai‘i Executive Collaborative, Duane Kurisu, chairman of Hawai‘i Executive Collaborative, Colbert Matsumoto, chair of the Hawai‘i Executive Collaborative Government & Civics CHANGE committee, and Darcie Yukuimura, director of philanthropy and neighbor island office of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation.
Councilmember Mason Chock also stopped by to tie the bill package in with the Kaua‘i Resilience Project and Keiki to Career.
The 2020 Cost of Living Initiative is a package of our separate bills touting policy changes that would, according to those promoting the joint bill package, “remove economic barriers and improve the lives of Hawai‘i working families.”
HB2543/SB3101 aim to improve access to early learning, HB2544/SB3103 work to repair and upgrade school facilities, HB 2541/SB3102 increase the hourly minimum wage from $10.10 to $13, and HB2542/SB3104 would increase funding and incentives for affordable housing.
HEC members say the bill package would increase the number of keiki who are enrolled in early learning programs, modernize school buildings and facilities, increase annual income for the average full-time worker more than $6,000 and provide access to long-term affordable homes for multiple generations.
One of the sparks for the package was the 2018 Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed Report, or ALICE Report, which represents those residents who are working, but struggle to make ends meet.
That report shows 47% of households struggle to afford basic household necessities across Hawai‘i and created what Kurisu calls “a collaboration that we haven’t seen in decades” between lawmakers, business owners and other organizations from across the state to contribute to the 2020 Cost of Living Initiative.
“We’re really trying to move the dial and (this bill package) has the potential to be impactful,” Kurisu said.
The bill package has come under fire from those who say $13 an hour isn’t a high enough raise for minimum wage in Hawai‘i — the consensus from opponents to that part of the package is that minimum wage should be closer to $17 an hour to really make a difference in quality of life for Hawai‘i residents.
Kouchi explained credits in various areas included in the bill package, like the proposed refundable food/excise tax credit work with the $13 minimum wage to create a balance that helps out both employees and small business owners — and creates a wage that’s realistic for families in Hawai‘i.
Those around the table say the package is meant to get kids in school and learning to read earlier, to get more roofs over families heads, and more money in their pockets for daily necessities.
The end result would be to ultimately make the cost of living more affordable and “create a Hawai‘i where every person has the opportunity to thrive”, according to messaging from HEC about the package.
Chock said the county council supports the bill package and that it creates the foundation for Kaua‘i Resilience Project — a movement geared toward reducing youth suicide and giving them the tools to live a prosperous, successful life.
The project outlines 10 tips for building resilience in young people. Among them are: sharing family meals and limiting screen time, getting involved in volunteer and community service opportunities, increasing financial literacy, and creating bonding hobbies and activities.
For a comprehensive look at the 2020 Cost of Living Initiative joint bill package, go online and visit hec.org/change-initiatives/early-childhood-learning. Links to legislation at the bottom of the page will give you up to date information on drafts moving through the legislature.