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Economy

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Economy

As our nation and Hawai‘i face turbulent economic times, I am focused in Congress on meeting the immediate challenges before us while investing in a more sustainable and prosperous future. I am fighting for targeted assistance for Hawaii’s main economic drivers, including tourism and hospitality, military spending and agriculture. I am also looking to support new industries to help diversify Hawaii’s economy.

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Response


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about one of the worst economic downturns in a generation. Hawaii’s unemployment rate jumped from the lowest in the nation at 2.4% in March to more than one-third of Hawaii’s labor force filing unemployment claims a month later. To help Hawai‘i residents and all Americans in this time of need, I supported multiple relief measures, including the nearly $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

A central component of the congressional response to COVID-19 has been assistance to small businesses, the lifeblood of our local economy. In additional to appropriating $660 billion to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program and $70 billion to its Economic Disaster Injury Loan Program, I have sent numerous letters to congressional leadership and executive branch agencies explaining Hawaii’s unique situation and doing everything in my power to make these programs work for Hawai‘i small businesses.

The CARES Act also provides billions to help people make ends meet. This includes:

  • Unemployment Compensation: Congress ensured that independent contractors and self-employed individuals are covered through unemployment insurance, and the bill adds an additional $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation to every weekly unemployment benefit, effective until July 31, 2020.

  • Cash Payments for Individuals: The bill provides an immediate $1,200 tax rebate for nearly every American ($2,400 per couple), with an additional $500 per child. To focus on those who need the most help, the benefits would start to phase down at $75,000 of adjusted gross income for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers.

  • Help for Homeowners: The bill allows for a suspension of mortgage payments for 180 days, with a possible 180-day extension, for borrowers with federally backed mortgages who attest that they’re experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also prohibits the foreclosure of homes with federally backed mortgages for at least 60 days.

  • Help for Renters: The bill prevents landlords from bringing legal action to recover possession due to rent non-payments for 120 days if the dwelling is insured, guaranteed, supplemented or assisted in any way by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or the rural housing voucher program.

  • Student Loans: The measure will suspend student loan payments and interest accruals through September 30, 2020.
Helping Small Businesses

Small businesses remain the lifeblood of Hawai‘i. Hawai‘i has over 130,000 small businesses; that’s about 1 small business for every 11 people. Despite the average Hawai‘i small business employing just 12 people, these 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 SBA. For example, for Fiscal Year 2020 the SBA received $847.6 million, an increase of $132.2 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 of these programs to empower some of our nation’s under-represented populations that are the true drivers of Hawaii’s small businesses.

Agriculture 

Agriculture, which is Hawaii’s third-largest industry, is at a critical junction but can help ensure a diversified economy for our state. With the loss of pineapple and sugar, Hawai‘i needs to transition to diversified agriculture sustainably. As Hawai‘i moves forward with its goal to double local food production by 2030, I will continue to leverage my position on the House Appropriations Committee to help local food production and fund research and agricultural programs that benefit the specialty crops found in our Hawai‘i. By diversifying our ag economy, our state can become more resilient to economic uncertainty and self-sufficient.

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 can connect to the internet to ensure that Hawai‘i and our keiki remain competitive in our 21st-century economy. 

 

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