UH updates lawmakers on budget-balancing measures

HONOLULU — Last week in the state House’s last virtual meeting of the year, the University of Hawai‘i’s president reported on impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and proposed budget cuts that their organization has been facing, while a Hawai‘i senator is hopeful that Congress will come to an agreement soon on the next stimulus package that includes funds for the state Department of Education and UH.

President David Lassner of UH, which currently has 50,000 enrolled students and faculty combined statewide, said his university was the first state organization to implement a freeze on significant expenditures before Gov. David Ige announced the furlough order earlier this month.

“We took pay reductions for all of our executive managerial employees starting in November, so we lead the way,” Lassner said. “Proud of our leaderships for agreeing to do this ahead of the furloughs that are in process now.”

UH announced other fiscal updates, which include working on a retirement incentive for faculty, enforcing a policy mandate from their chief financial officer for cash preservation, and the Board of Regents-approved operating budget for FY2021 preserves all UH reserves for the more-difficult years ahead.

The regents-approved biennium budgets lay out an approach to upcoming difficult years, with approved biennium budgets for FY2022 to FY2024 including no new operating-budget requests, requests continuing support for high-priority capital improvement projects, and renewal, improvement and modernization.

Lassner said UH received $44,930,415 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding, and broke down expenditure details for the state House to review.

According to Lassner, the federal funds were distributed in three tranches. First, $12,009,865 was allocated for their student grants emergency financial aid that was given to students at the beginning of the pandemic. Second, $12,009,865 was for institutional support, costs associated with the changes to the delivery of instruction, and it was also used for student grants. Finally, $20,910,685 was spent for minority-serving institutions, to defray lost revenue and reimburse for pandemic-related expenses.

Lassner also mentioned that the state helped fund $11 million that went towards the university’s personal protective equipment, sanitation supplies, technology and related needs.

In addition to the federal funds, Lassner said there is a whole range of competitive opportunities that UH received while also helping other agencies. According to Lassner, there were another $31 million in CARES funds received that were very project-specific.

“I think I am proudest of this Reimagine Workforce ($13.3 million). Our community colleges lead this effort,” Lassner said. “We were one of only eight states to successfully compete for Department of Education CARES funding. The O‘ahu Back to Work project ($3 million), contact-tracing training ($2.5 million) and Tropical Medicine Clinical Lab ($3.9 million).”

As far as the furlough program, Lassner said his team is working in accord with the governor’s directives, and UH is actively working to identify opportunities for right-sizing across UH, with emphasis on priorities in the regents-approved biennium budget policy paper.

“(We) will prepare for a revised biennium budget plan based on governor’s budget to be released next week,” Lassner said. “Hawai‘i is a special place where diverse people and communities live, work, learn and play together in a sustainable manner. The UH system is the single-most important contributor to the future of Hawai‘i. We know what we do here is important.”

House Majority Leader Delia Belatti said the state is watching the Legislature and Congress with their stimulus-package negotiations, but that is all they can do for now — watch.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said on his Facebook video that he and his colleagues are working hard on coming to a bipartisan deal that will provide federal funds for the Department of Education and UH, and he hopes it will help avoid the furlough issue.

“We are still in negotiation over COVID legislation,” Schatz said.

“Focusing on trying to enact a bill in the next several days, which will hopefully include money for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), small-business program, unemployment insurance, certainly money for vaccine distribution, rent relief, money for the DOE and UH, broadband money and nutrition money as well,” he said.

”We are not quite there yet, but lots and lots of people are working really hard, and I am a little more hopeful than I have been over the last couple of days over the possibility of delivering some real relief. So hang in there.”


Stephanie Shinno, reporter can be reached at 245-0424 or sshinno@thegardenisland.com.


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