Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami should be commended for his leadership in guiding Kauai County through these past very difficult few weeks. His daily updates have provided a calm, consistent and reassuring message that appropriate measures are being put into place to limit the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While I initially wondered about the evening curfew that was put into place, I understand the importance of sending an early message to visitors and residents of the need to stay home. The closing of the farmers’ markets also have raised questions, but I know clearly that these decisions were not undertaken lightly and are constantly under review.
I especially appreciate our Mayor has not overtly criticized or publicly “piled on” Governor Ige, second-guessing as to whether or not his decision-making has been aggressive enough. Whether or not such criticism is deserved, there is a point when this type of conversation is not helpful and in fact, is counter-productive. I believe that we crossed this point a few days ago.
Moving forward is where our collective energy should be focussed. What do we do next?
A huge infusion of economic support is coming very soon to local residents and businesses. The State Department of Labor is working 24/7 to manage the influx of unemployment insurance requests and has announced all applications will be “backdated” to compensate for the temporary system breakdown, which has been so frustrating for so many.
Contained within the multiple economic stimulus packages being passed by the U.S. Congress are measures to increase both the amount of the weekly unemployment benefit and the length of time the benefits will be paid. There will also be direct cash payments deposited into almost everyone’s bank account. While the exact amount has not yet been determined, it’s without a doubt that a cash infusion to individuals and families, will soon be on its way.
For those who have recently lost their jobs, the help and the money cannot come fast enough.
Everyone is in the same boat. From newly unemployed individuals renting a single room in a house, to now closed large retail stores renting huge commercial space in shopping centers. Everyone is either paying rent or mortgage payments, and those receiving the rent and mortgage payments are all likewise using those funds to pay their bills.
The economic circle of debt and dependence is locked in, and the result is complete interdependence. In a disaster such as this, no-one can afford to foreclose or evict as there is no-one to replace that income stream. Consequently, there will be many measures in place to limit or block foreclosures and evictions. After all, they can’t foreclose and evict all of us!
The truth is the economic disruption while severe and extremely disruptive is temporary. The heartbreaking reality for those perhaps already stretched to their limit before the arrival of Covid-19 is that even if temporary, they will get pushed over the edge and lose everything. But for most of us, I believe we are in the midst of temporary hardship. An incredibly stressful hardship, but temporary – and necessary for the greater good.
For what it’s worth, I believe the worse will be over relatively soon. Approximately 3 months after the first outbreak, new cases of Covid-19 in China have been dropping slowly but steadily over the past few weeks. Restaurants in the hardest-hit areas are starting to reopen and economic activity is slowly restarting.
Following this pattern, we should likewise be turning the corner in 3 months or so. At some point, the hotels, restaurants and related businesses will then gradually start reopening. Airlines will begin reinstating previously canceled flights and our local economy will start climbing back to health. The economic recovery will take some time, but a year from now will feel much more like normal, than the uncertainty and stress we are all feeling now.
While no one can accurately predict what will come next, we can do our best to create the future we want for ourselves. We can and should be redoubling our efforts to achieve true food self-sufficiency.
Likewise, it’s way past time to make economic diversification a reality and not just a buzz word. And during the coming blur of actions and activity that accompany all disasters and the subsequent rush to recovery, we must always remember three things: This too shall pass, the sun always comes up the next day and we are all in this together.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the Hawaii State Senate, where he was Majority Leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.