Ige vetoes portions of CARES funding bill

HONOLULU — Governor David Ige has signed Senate Bill 126, expending CARES Act funding before it expires at the end of the year, with eight line-item vetoes.

The bill created a plan to use $635 million of the federal CARES Act funds to provide ongoing, immediate relief to residents and small businesses during the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Thursday news release, Ige’s office said the governor’s primary concern is having the flexibility to use the funds where they are needed most.

The state is waiting for the U.S. Congress to act on appropriate additional COVID-19 funding, Ige’s office said in the release. Only then will the state have more clarity on what can or should be done to support new programs established by the CARES funds. The governor and his administration have been working with state House and Senate leadership to respond appropriately.

“It will not serve our community if the funds are designated for a specific purpose by the budget bill and the funds are not used because they were not necessary or they were duplicated by potential federal support,” Ige said in the Thursday release.

The vetoes include:

• A $90 million appropriation for airport screenings and health assurance initiatives. Ige pointed out that the state Department of Transportation believes that $70 million will be sufficient for equipment and services to test, verify and monitor travelers during COVID-19;

• $230 million to provide an additional unemployment benefit of $100 per week. Ige said the U.S. Congress is currently considering another economic-stimulus package and they’re unsure what will be approved and Hawai‘i needs to be flexible in using the funds for other needs in case Congress provides additional funding for unemployment benefits;

• $100 million for housing and rental assistance and the administrative costs related to the housing relief and resiliency program. Ige said the state Housing and Finance Development Corporation believes the initial amount of $50 million can be spent by the end of the year to help homeowners who have experienced reductions of income due to COVID-19. Funds saved by the reduction may be applied to the period March 1 through Aug. 1;

• $100 million for the purchase of personal protective equipment. Ige said the appropriation doesn’t include the purchase and distribution of much-needed sanitation or disinfectant supplies. The state Department of Defense also has stated $61 million is sufficient for PPE;

• The governor said he would also reduce $36 million to $10 million appropriated for retraining and workforce-development programs and reduce from $15 million to $10 million money that would have been used to support emerging industries to create a supply chain for cleaning supplies and PPE;

• A $2 million appropriation for a public-private partnership to support public high-school seniors who were adversely affected by COVID-19 would be reduced to $1 million;

• Lastly, the $1 billion transfer from the Emergency Reserve Fund will be reduced to $648 million. This is a technical correction because the amount is overstated by $432 million.

State House Speaker Scott Saiki was one of the legislators who spoke out against the vetoes on Thursday, voicing disappointment on all of the line-item vetoes.

“The Legislature worked hard to direct funding to the most pressing needs,” Saiki said. “The House will work with the governor to reallocate the vetoed funds to ensure that they are spent on our most pressing needs prior to December 31.”

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