As our nation and Hawai‘i recover from the turbulent economic times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am focused in Congress on meeting the immediate challenges before us while investing in a more sustainable and prosperous future. I am fighting to address inflation and cost-of-living concerns that affect all of us in Hawai‘i, and I am working to secure federal investment to bring new industries to Hawai‘i and diversify the main economic drivers to create good paying jobs at home so our keiki can live and thrive in our Hawai‘i. Finally, I am still committed to making sure the federal government helps our state deal with the economic fallout from COVID-19.
Supply Chains and Cost-of-Living
The current supply chain disruptions, which has been responsible for stock shortages and accelerating inflation, are extremely concerning and must be addressed. To this end, I cosigned a letter asking the Federal Maritime Commission to address severe price-gouging in shipping costs and anti-competitive business practices that have resulted in shipping price increases and delays. I also cosponsored H.R. 3848, the Critical Supply Chain Commission Act, which looks to develop a plan to strengthen American manufacturing supply chain resilience and reduce our dependence on other countries.
My three bills would modernize the Jones Act for Hawai'i and other U.S. noncontiguous areas (Alaska and the island territories). They would (1) exempt such locales from the Jones Act while ensuring that any company that enters the U.S. domestic shipping market complies fully with U.S. law, including labor and environmental requirements (H.R. 298, the Noncontiguous Shipping Relief Act); (2) limit the rates that Jones Act carriers can charge to within 10 percent of comparable international rates (H.R. 299, the Noncontiguous Shipping Reasonable Rate Act); and (3) exempt noncontiguous areas from the Jones Act if a duopoly or monopoly exists (H.R. 300, the Noncontiguous Shipping Competition Act).
I will prioritize these bills and continue to lead this conversation in Congress about the practical effect of the Jones Act on our Hawai'i and ways to provide relief to other noncontiguous areas.
Helping Small Businesses
Small businesses remain the lifeblood of Hawai‘i. Our state has over 130,000 small businesses—that’s about 1 small business for every 11 people. While the average small business in Hawai‘i employs just 12 people, as a whole, Hawaii’s small businesses still employ a majority of our workforce.
In Congress, I have been an advocate for small business assistance programs that help our state. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have secured billions of dollars for the key small business assistance programs managed by the Small Business Administration (SBA). For example, for Fiscal Year 2021 my Committee provided the SBA’s Entrepreneurial Development Programs $272 million, an increase of $11 million above the prior year levels.
Given the rich ethnic diversity in Hawai‘i, minority-based programs are particularly important to Hawai‘i. Almost 93% of small businesses in Hawai‘i are minority-owned. They depend on and have received great benefit from programs such as the 8(a) Business Development program and the HUBZone program, which help provide a level playing field for small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people and historically underutilized business zones. I am focused on ensuring the continuation and expansion of these programs to empower some of our nation’s under-represented populations that are the true drivers of Hawaii’s small businesses.
Diversifying Our Economy
The COVID-19 pandemic and other periods of economic uncertainty, such as the 2008 financial crisis and 9/11, illustrate how reliant Hawaii’s economy is on tourism and vulnerable it is to a recession. I have long supported developing a technology industry in Hawai‘i to help diversify our economy. The technology sector provides high-paying jobs that are not at the mercy of high export shipping costs, and the federal defense presence in Hawai‘i offers technology and 8(a) startups an excellent partner. To that end, I have been an advocate for the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer program, which helps technology startups get federal contracts. I have also been looking for different avenues to close the digital divide and ensure that Hawai‘i residents have access to affordable internet and have the education they need to ensure that Hawai‘i and our keiki remain competitive in our 21st-century economy.
Agriculture, which is Hawaii’s third-largest industry, is at a critical junction but can also help ensure a diversified economy for our state and help Hawai‘i achieve its goal to double local food production by 2030. I will continue to leverage my position on the House Appropriations Committee to help expand local food production and fund research and agricultural programs that benefit the specialty crops found in our Hawai‘i. It can also help Hawai‘i become more self-sufficient.
Economic Response to COVID-19