LIHU‘E — Governor David Ige spoke at the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce’s virtual 23rd annual Governor’s Luncheon on Thursday, and answered questions regarding vaccination, unemployment, rental cars and tourism.
Taking a fact-finding position on almost all topics he addressed at the Thursday luncheon, he said the state is looking to others as they figure out next steps to deal with the aftermath of COVID-19.
With businesses starting to reopen, Kaua‘i employers are facing the same hiring challenges that other business owners are facing — a workforce in which many apparently don’t want to return to work.
Chamber member Laurie Yoshida, who led the Thursday discussion, acknowledged Ige’s recent announcement that the sate would be reinstating the requirement that people search for work in order to receive unemployment payments.
She pointed to other states like Arizona and Montana — 21 of which have decided to stop participating in the federal government’s supplemental unemployment benefits program, wondering if Hawai‘i would do the same.
“A lot of our businesses are having a very difficult time hiring, and it is actually slowing down our recovery a little bit,” Yoshida said. “Are you considering other adjustments to unemployment or any kind of bonuses or other programs for people who excel?”
Ige acknowledged the moves that others states have made to encourage the workforce to go back to work, but didn’t indicate whether his administration was considering an end to the federal supplemental unemployment benefits program in Hawai‘i.
Instead, he said, reworking the state’s unemployment-insurance program is the main goal, currently.
“We believe that reinstating the work requirement would require everyone collecting unemployment to be searching for jobs,” Ige said. “And that’s really just reinstating the requirement that has been part of the UI program all the time.”
Ige’s administration is still in a “fact-finding” stage with HB862, as well — the bill on his desk that would trigger major funding cuts to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.
The chamber joined 30 other organizations recently in sending a letter, asking Ige to veto the bill.
“We’re just trying to make sure we understand the full impact of what veto would mean, and really think about what’s in the best interest of the community,” Ige said. “We haven’t arrived at a final decision.”
Other than briefly touching on rental cars — the administration is working with rental-car companies in an effort to encourage the rebuilding of their inventories — Ige spent the rest of his time talking about vaccinations and the Safe Travels program.
He said once Kaua‘i rejoined the Safe Travels program on April 5, his office started working to increase inter-island travel.
“We now have a vaccination exception for those who are vaccinated in the state of Hawai‘i to be able to travel inter-island. I think that is important. It really does facilitate the local economy to a much greater extent,” Ige said. “So we (will) continue to evaluate the Safe Travel program.”
Ige also said Kaua‘i is on the forefront of COVID-19 vaccinations, leading the state with just under 50% of residents having been fully vaccinated. Statewide, that percentage is at 49%.
“Hawai‘i Pacific Health and all of the health-care providers have really done a marvelous job in making vaccines available, being able to schedule everyone. And those who wanted to get vaccinated were able to get vaccinated,” Ige said.
Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.