LIHU‘E — At the Lihue Business Association’s video conference on Thursday, Mayor Derek Kawakami spoke on Kaua‘i’s economic recovery plans in his first term.
Kawakami started his speech with a transparent reflection on the past year of the nation’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We should have anticipated an outbreak,” Kawakami said. “We should have known and we should have been better prepared. It’s evident from other initial countries that they were prepared versus our country. All is water under the bridge. Moving forward, I’m tremendously optimistic. I have hope.”
The topics that Kawakami covered at the event included fiscal health, housing, homelessness, sustainability, infrastructure maintenance and repair, government service innovations, COVID-19 and economic recovery.
“I do want to take some time to talk about a program that our Office of Economic Development created during the pandemic,” Kawakami said. “What was very apparent is that the state’s unemployment system and their IT infrastructure was not able to handle the incoming requests because of this pandemic.”
Kawakami said he knows a lot of people blamed the unemployment administration and the state Department of Labor.
“But I will tell you that I feel, in my opinion, they are not totally responsible for all of the blame,” Kawakami said. “In fact, I don’t think there is too much blame to go around. But what was faced with is they had an archaic IT infrastructure. And they didn’t have the necessary hardware to be able to process the number of claims that were coming in. And so many people were having their payments delayed, couldn’t get the support that they needed.”
Kawakami said the OED economic-recovery-strategy team was tasked with formulating two strategies — short-term, immediate relief, and long-term, economic-development plans.
“So one of the short-term relief programs that they created was Rise to Work,” Kawakami said. “I think there are too many flaws in our unemployment system. The Rise to Work program (was created) to be able to partner, nonprofit organizations, with tears out money with potential employees. And we used a local HR firm to help us process the applications coming in. “
Kawakami said that, at the end of the day, the county was able to partner with 100 organizations that hired 280 people that paid them what they would consider a living wage.
Through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds that the county received, Kawakami said the county funded 47 proposals, targeted at six major categories. The county identified which categories were the most in need. Those categories were broken down to food service, nonprofit, economic-loss support, mental-health welfare and domestic-violence prevention, agriculture, tourism, economic diversification and supporting displaced workers.
“We created the Small Business boost grant, which at the end of the day was a direct injection of financial support into 132 local businesses and their operations. We had we had to do it in two waves,” Kawakami said. “The first wave just sold out. And at the end of the day, we’re able to support 832 local small mom-and-pops,” Kawakami said.
Another way the county was able to help residents survive through the pandemic was by working magic on budgets.
“We’ve been able to extend deadlines of_ property-tax payments twice because it’s tough all over,” Kawakami said. “I want to thank our Finance Department’s Reiko Matsuyama and Michelle Lizama for really being able to crunch the numbers and see where we could provide at least some extensions on payments to take that burden off people’s shoulders.”
Kawakami said the county is very optimistic about more federal support moving forward.
“We are looking into what that’s going to look like. We are still trying to work with our congressional delegation to see what sorts of relief programs will be able to be dropped down to the counties to help us fill in the gaps as we move along.”
Stephanie Shinno, features, education, business, and community reporter can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.