While our first priority is personal health and then the economic realities of today, we must also at some point soon talk about what comes tomorrow.
There is the “here and now” conversation of social distancing, travel bans, quarantines and the fundamental need to just stay at home. By now, most of us get it and we are staying home if able to do so.
Personally, I am ready to move on and accept that there are enough cooks in the kitchen. When there is a capacity for expanded statewide testing, I’m confident that the decision will be made. As the government can develop further rules on better enforcing the mandatory quarantine I am likewise sure that will happen. Banging on those in power trying to do their best only makes things worse. Likewise, hating on people just because they are driving a rental car or don’t look local, or have pulled over to look at the ocean is unacceptable.
We are better than this. Each of us needs to take another deep breath and remember yet once again, that we are all in this together.
The immediate task before us is taking care of our personal health, and the health of the greater community. That boils down to staying home. If we must go out to work or do essential tasks, we must take the appropriate steps to social distance, wash our hands, etc.
Following close behind protecting our health, is managing as best we can the economic realities of the moment. Again, we need to remember we are all in this together. If you are a renter who has lost their job, reach out and talk to your landlord. If you are a landlord, offer help if you can to your tenant and then likewise reach out to the bank who is awaiting your mortgage payment.
If you have lost your job or had to close your business, or if you need help just to pay your bills or put food on the table – you should do the research and apply now for the help that is available. If you are not sure where to start, let your friends and neighbors know of your situation. Someone I am sure will step up to help. After all, that is how we roll.
It’s time now for the mortgage industry to simply reduce interest rates on existing mortgages, without forcing all to go through the refinance process. Ditto for credit card interest and student loans. While loan forbearance is helpful, temporarily deferring monthly payments, is not enough. The federal government is shoveling trillions of dollars into the financial markets to keep them viable, that help must be directed also to the interest rates being charged on consumer debt and residential mortgages.
Soon we must engage the post-pandemic public policy #pppp conversation. At some point, the 2020 legislative session will reopen. When this happens we as a community must ensure that key “moving forward” issues are addressed with the urgency they deserve.
The knee jerk legislative reaction to kickstarting the economy will be to invest in construction projects and reboot the visitor industry. Both must be done, but both must be done with mindfulness. We need a massive investment in basic infrastructure and affordable housing. We also need to support our friends and family in the visitor industry. But we need limits on growth, the industry must pay its fair share, and future visitors must be better informed as to the importance of respecting both our culture and our special places.
Construction and visitor jobs must be supported, but the current situation calls for much more.
The fragility of our “supply chain” and the need for food self-sufficiency has never been so apparent. We must attack this challenge with the commitment it deserves.
With the wide availability of modern communication technology, there is no legitimate excuse to continue delaying the opportunity for meaningful public participation in state government, regardless of where you live. We need “remote testimony” capability now.
Finally – Now is not the time to balance the state budget on the backs of the most economically vulnerable. Hard-earned and much-deserved tax credits and modest incremental wage increases must be preserved and in fact, expanded.
When the 2020 legislative session eventually is called back to order, these issues (and others) must be addressed with the urgency they deserve. This is not the time for our legislature to hunker down, do only the basics and wait for the storm to pass. To the contrary, this is when we need them the most and I’m hopeful that leadership in the House and the Senate will, in fact, rise to the occasion.
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.