Heal Maui Act Introductory Statement
Washington, January 31, 2024
I rise in support of my bill, H.R. 7061, the Healing and Economic Advancement for Local Businesses in Maui (HEAL Maui) Act, which would provide critical additional support to our small businesses which have been so severely affected by the devastating August 2023 Maui wildfires.
The Maui wildfires caused 100 known deaths, severely injured many others, and displaced thousands of our ‘ohana (family). They burned over 2,500 acres of land and destroyed over 2,200 structures, including homes, businesses and historic landmarks. The full resources of our federal, state and local governments and communities are directed at recovery across many fronts.
My HEAL Maui Act focuses on our small businesses, the backbone of our economy. Our Maui small businesses, and indeed small businesses throughout Hawai’i, suffered a “severe economic disruption” as a result of the fires and their aftermath. In fact, the State of Hawai‘i revised its statewide economic growth projections for 2023 and 2024 downward, from 1.8 percent to 1.1 percent for 2023 and from 2.0 percent to 1.5 percent for 2024.
On Maui itself, initial unemployment claims jumped from an average of 130 cases per week before the wildfires to 865 cases in the first week after the fire to 4,449 cases in the second week after the fire. The unemployment rate on Maui rose to 8.6% in September 2023.
This economic disruption is hitting Hawaii’s small businesses especially hard because small businesses comprise the vast majority of our businesses and employ the vast majority of our workforce. Hawai‘i is home to over 130,000 small businesses, with the average small business employing just 12 people.
Affected Hawai’i small businesses, still burdened with existing COVID-19 loans, find difficulty matching federal small business disaster assistance programs to actual needs and circumstances. In response, my HEAL Maui Act is a comprehensive legislative proposal designed to offer swift and direct assistance to our small businesses during these challenging times. This legislation builds on the lessons learned from previous crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the need to tailor federal programs to address specific conditions in Hawai‘i and the specific circumstances and consequences of this disaster.
The bill offers three much-needed forms of immediate assistance. First, it would augment the existing Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program by providing immediate advances to ensure businesses can maintain operations and retain employees. Second, it proposes a new loan program modeled after the Payroll Protection Program to directly address the immediate financial challenges many businesses face in the aftermath of the wildfires. Third, recognizing that some businesses have already taken out SBA disaster loans post-wildfire, my HEAL Maui Act offers a two-year loan deferment given the long duration needed for this recovery.
My bill should be viewed as additive and complementary to the other sources of assistance to our small businesses and their owners and employees. These proposals may not work for all small businesses in their own circumstances, but they do offer further options that may work better or exclusively for some. In that, they are another piece of a very big effort to achieve full recovery across the board from this terrible and tragic disaster. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation.
Mahalo (thank you) for your time and consideration.