Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part Talk Story with Gov. David Ige. This interview transcript has been edited for clarity.
Gov. David Ige invited The Garden Island to talk story with him on Tuesday and get to know him on a one-on-one level.
TGI asked Ige questions over a Zoom call and was told any question goes but had only twenty minutes to do so.
Icebreaker: What did you have for breakfast, and do you drink coffee or tea?
My usual breakfast is an Atkins low-carb breakfast bar. I don’t drink coffee or tea.
Vaccination: Why is it important for you to wait until the state reaches 70% heard immunity before dropping certain safety measurements, like wearing masks indoors or social distancing?
A couple of things. We do believe, and are working with the public health officials, that 70% was a good target of the entire population to be completely vaccinated as our period for when we will be able to drop the restrictions. We have always been doing this pandemic driven by public health data, and the recommendations that we get from the state epidemiologist and the Department of Health.
I’m really committed to that. We were hoping that we would see the number of cases fall, but that hasn’t happened, it’s been stable, it hasn’t been growing as it has on the mainland. But, it hasn’t dropped to the level that we had hoped. The last week or so we saw an increase in the number of cases, we are, again, over 50 cases per day, which we have a concern, we’ve obviously seen an increase in the delta variant.
And we know that the delta variant across the country has led to a spike, especially in those communities where the vaccination rate is not as high as it is here in the islands. So that continues to be a concern. And really, the only people that are not eligible for vaccinations right now are children 11 and below.
So, just as we had worked to protect our kupuna at the very beginning stages of the pandemic, I think it’s really important to recognize that our children now are the most vulnerable because they haven’t been able to get vaccinated. We definitely would like to see higher rates of vaccination before we drop our restrictions.
Unemployment: Why is the Kaua‘i office closed and how can we help those that haven’t received any benefits yet?
We’ve pivoted in many different ways so that we can continue to provide services without having direct impressing contact. And that’s really what we’re doing with unemployment insurance, we’ve established a call center.
Those needing to talk with the department can schedule a telephone conference, or schedule a video conference, depending on what their preference would be so that we can resolve the issues that they have.
So I mean, that’s what we continue to do. We are on the long term, looking at when it would be safe to reopen offices — we want to be able to provide a safe and healthy environment for our employees. And that really is a critical part of that, as we get people vaccinated once again, then we would be inclined if we can get to 70%. To looking at reopening offices and having face-to-face interactions again.
A message for those that haven’t received their benefits yet.
I just appreciate their patience. I know that this has been a very difficult time for everyone. We continue to get fraudulent applications into the office. And so we’re getting better at identifying and separating fraudulent requests from real requests of people being unemployed.
We’ve gotten to resolve many of the issues that we started with. A lot of the cases now really do require collecting the facts from both the employer and the employee and trying to make the determination about whether they would be eligible for unemployment. The remaining cases are the most difficult ones and that does take more time to resolve.
Houseless & Affordable housing: San Diego created a shelter for Veterans that are homeless and they turned old abandon hotels into shelters. Will we ever get to that point? Or do you think we are on the right track?
We actually are doing those kinds of projects here, all across the state. We did have an affordable housing project for that specifically in Kapolei. The state did have lands available, we worked with the Veterans Administration, and private nonprofit housing developers.
We are working with the counties on joint ventures, our public-private partnerships, and partnerships with the counties about acquiring facilities, making investments, so that they can become permanent supportive housing for those who continue to struggle.
We’ve had projects on virtually every island, working with the county as a partner, and sometimes it’s state land and we turn it over to the county so that they can construct a homeless project or an affordable rental, or sometimes it’s acquiring an old building, investing in renovations and then making it available as an affordable rental, or as a location for placement of homeless individuals.
It’s just that notion of housing first and we know for homeless individuals, if we can get them into permanent supportive housing, we have a better chance of helping them get back on their feet, and getting them back to work and being able to pay rent on a regular basis.