Mayor hopeful for more federal funds

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

  1. I saw a Vampire once January 29, 2021 3:36 am Reply

    That is the main thing, you got the mayor pushing for more stimulus pay. I think there are few people on the island who wouldn’t mind being on leave and collecting. You can never be too safe. Coronavirus lingers. But no one knows where it lingers. That is the scary part. It just hits. You know the rules. Obey. Or else? Ho…ha…ha…wha…aha..ah…ah.!

  2. Kaika January 29, 2021 7:27 pm Reply

    If no one is alarmed by this statement from the mayor you’re not thinking clearly. He is hoping the federal government will give us more money to stay closed. Kids are still out of school. There is no one is the hospital with covid, we have maybe 1 case everyother day. He’s allowing business to stay open but not allowing tourists in unless they jump through multiple hoops including the ridiculously high priced resort bubble. $1000-1300 per night at timbers. You’re playing politics and gambling with our livelihoods and children’s future. Unacceptable for your plan is to hope for more federal money. That’s not sustainable. Grow a pair and open our island the same as the rest of hawaii. We deserve a chance.

  3. Jane January 29, 2021 8:51 pm Reply

    Can we stop sight u seen hime buy for non-residents that is 2nd or 3rd homes when natives don’t have resources to buy mansions.

  4. Big Kahuna January 30, 2021 5:32 pm Reply

    Somebody let the Mayor know the election is over! Biden won and can now allow the economy to open. You and NY Gov Como are living in a fantasy world. You have ruined the lives of many local families. Many businesses will never open. For what? The media salivated for months talking about cases since March. The only number that matters is how many peopled died on Kauai. The answer is 1 who was fatally ill with Cancer prior to getting Covid.

    I would be much more impressed if Derek Fancy pants rich kid, gave his monthly salary to charity while he closes the island for everyone else. I’m going on 10 months without a dime yet the Mayor hopes for more Government funding.

    Now that the Kapuna, teachers, police, fire depts. have been vaccinated its time to open up the island for business with out the non sense of a resort bubble. Give us a chance to save ourselves as Joe wont be coming to bail me out.

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