HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. David Ige said he is working to find out whether the federal government would fully pay for $300 in weekly supplemental unemployment benefits President Donald Trump announced under an executive order last weekend or whether the state would wind up having to foot the bill if it participated in the program.
Ige said his office was seeking more details from the Trump administration on what would be required.
“We are concerned because there is no specific congressional appropriation to implement this program,” Ige said at a news conference Thursday. “And we want to understand what the state obligation would be should the federal government not be able to provide the funds promised.”
Trump’s order allocates $44 billion in federal dollars from Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund to pay for an additional $300 in weekly supplemental unemployment aid for the jobless.
The plan calls on states to kick in money of their own to contribute an additional $100 a week.
The payments are intended to partially replace $600 in weekly payments provided in addition to the usual unemployment insurance benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump issued his executive order after the $600 “plus-up” ended last month and Congress wasn’t able to agree on a program to replace it.
“In this instance, it’s not clear whether we would have to front the money from the state’s perspective or whether the federal government would be providing full access to the promised funds before we began the program. So those are the details that we’re working through,” Ige said.
Even if the state does take advantage of the program and use the money, it’s not expected to last long. Experts say the $44 billion that the Trump administration has set aside would run out in five or six weeks.
In the meantime, Hawaii legislative leaders want Ige to start providing $100 in additional weekly benefits using money they allocated for this purpose earlier this year.
Lawmakers passed legislation setting aside $230 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for the $100 payment, but Ige used his line-item veto power to reject their plan. Ige said he wanted flexibility to decide how to use the relief funds while Congress determined whether to extend the $600 payment.
Sylvia Luke, the chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, said he should use his powers to spend that money now.
“I think the prudent thing for at least the governor to do and for the state to do is implement some type of assistance in the interim while Congress still grapples with coming to an agreement,” Luke said.
Hawaii lawmakers budgeted $230 million in coronavirus relief funds to provide assistance to 117,000 unemployed beginning August 1 through Dec. 31 in anticipation of the $600 “plus-up” running out.
Hawaii’s unemployment rate stood at 13.9% in June.
Luke, a Democrat representing Nuuanu and Pauoa, said this $100 payment could supplement the $300 provided from FEMA funds if the state uses that money.
Still, she said it’s not ideal for the president to use FEMA’s disaster relief fund for unemployment, adding that the money should be available to help Hawaii and other states cope with hurricanes and other natural disasters.
“So my hope is that Congress, Republicans and Democrats in Congress get together very quickly and resolve this issue for everybody’s sake,” Luke said.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said state agencies will need some time to ramp up distribution of any new supplemental unemployment payments. As a result, he hopes the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations are already working on how to do this while the governor decides what to do.
“I’m hoping that the agencies are at least communicating and developing a way that they’re going to be able to distribute this money,” said Dela Cruz, a Democrat who represents Mililani and Wahiawa.