Not even six months have passed since the first case of COVID-19 in our country. But there have been almost 3.3 million since with the loss of 135,000 of our fellow citizens and widespread economic and social disruption. In the four months since the first case in our Hawai‘i, 1,220 have been diagnosed and we have lost 19. Although this is one of the best public health results in our country, it has come at the expense of one of the worst economic and job loss results nationwide as we shuttered our tourism industry and other businesses and otherwise followed the best public health advice while other states didn’t.
This has been an extremely difficult crisis for our country and Hawai‘i, our communities and ‘ohana. I wish I could say that the worst is over, but the recent second spikes throughout our country and here at home show how dangerous this disease is, how fragile our recovery can be, how we can take nothing for granted, how we must follow the best public health advice, and how we must help each other all the way through.
As your Congressman, my entire focus over these intense months has been to (1) contribute to the best possible decisions in Congress for our country, (2) assure that Hawai‘i receives our fair share of the trillions in emergency assistance Congress has directed, and (3) assist any and all of my constituents with your own individual questions and needs. I have also been committed to every opportunity to let you know exactly what I believe is going on good or bad and to listen to your thoughts and answer your questions.
To continue, this is a further update on COVID-19 focused especially on what your federal government and I have done and are doing. I am also providing here and below another anonymous online survey and would really appreciate your participation.
Public Health Crisis Continues to Require Public Health Response
COVID-19 is first and foremost a public health crisis and it can only be overcome by following the best public health advice. To short-circuit the full public health response will only reverse public health gains and ultimately make economic and social recovery that much slower and more difficult, as we are seeing in spades in those other states that reopened early against public health warnings.
This is an individual and collective effort. Here again is the best advice from the experts through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. Please follow it, for yourself and all of us.
If you believe you have symptoms, you should get tested. Under the emergency federal legislation Congress has passed since early March, COVID-19 tests should be available and most should not have to pay for them. If you are having difficulty obtaining a test, please call the Hawai‘i State Department of Health at (808) 586-4586.
Like other infectious diseases, COVID-19 will only be controlled through development and implementation of an effective, widespread and affordable vaccine. Congress has directed billions of dollars to this effort and the federal government is pursuing it on all fronts through Operation Warp Speed. When there are about three to five potential vaccines that are likely to be successful, production will be advanced while still in development so as soon as one is proven safe and effective, vaccinations will be available immediately. The best scientific estimates are that we are still around a year away from an effective vaccine coming on line, which makes continuing to comply with the best public health advice even more important.
Reopening Hawai’i Requires Ongoing Coordinated Effort
Most of the specific decisions on when and under what conditions to reopen Hawai‘i tourism, small business, schools, facilities, communities and all other activities limited by COVID-19 are being made at the state and local level. I am in virtually daily contact with state and local leaders to determine where and how I can assist at the federal level.
One issue that is clearly federal is whether Hawai‘i can require all potential air passengers to Hawai‘i to be tested negative for COVID-19 as a condition to getting on the plane to start with rather than us being required to run an ineffective quarantine program after they’re already here. I am pursuing that authority for Hawai‘i in both the federal administration and through my proposed Air Travel Public Health Emergency Act. Here is information on my effort: https://case.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=314.
I am also working closely with national travel and tourism groups and my colleagues in Congress from similar tourism-dependent districts on federal emergency and longterm assistance to travel and tourism which has been among the very hardest hit industries internationally.
CARES Act Brings Some $7.7 Billion to Hawai‘i to Date
Beginning in early March, Congress passed several pieces of COVID-19 legislation which we refer to together as the CARES Act. These directed trillions of emergency assistance to many different programs throughout our country. The broadest and most well-known are assistance to our state and local governments and to our health care providers, a federal supplement to state-administered unemployment benefits, aid to our small businesses especially the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and economic impact/direct stimulus payments to most Americans.
Since enactment of CARES, my office has devoted itself to daily tracking of the CARES funding through the often-winding process to actual receipt in Hawai‘i at its final destination. These desperately needed funds are funneling through about 76 separate federal programs, ranging from the more well-known ones I mentioned to housing, education, social services, agriculture and much more. The total amount received to date is around $7.7 billion, which has helped many to get through these first worst months.
Small Business Assistance Still Available
In Hawai‘i small business is king and this crisis has affected our small businesses severely. Two federal CARES programs that have helped tens of thousands of our small businesses are the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Impact Disaster Loans (EIDL). These programs are still open, though PPP applications must be submitted by August 7th so time is of the essence. Please visit my webpage at https://case.house.gov/coronavirus for information and assistance.
The City and County of Honolulu’s Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund is also using its federal CARES funds to reimburse small businesses up to $10,000 to help them with the costs of implementing COVID-19 mitigation measures such as installing Plexiglas. More information about this program is online at https://www.oneoahu.org/small-business.
A separate federal CARES program, the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program, is now set up to support lending to small and medium-sized businesses that were in sound financial condition before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses interested in the program can apply by contacting approved lenders, which are listed at https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/mainstreetlending.htm.
HEROES Act Aims To Authorize More Federal Emergency Assistance
The realities are that neither the public health nor economic crises of COVID-19 are dissipating as we initially hoped they would, and that our federal CARES Act emergency assistance are running out. It is very clear that still more federal assistance is not only needed but critical to provide additionally stability as we confront this second peak and seek to reopen as safely and widely as possible.
On May 15th, I voted for successful passage in the U.S. House of a further major emergency assistance package which we refer to as the HEROES Act (summary here). This bill would continue many of the CARES programs including state and local government assistance and direct stimulus payments, as well as funding critical testing, contact tracing and vaccine development needs. Disappointingly the U.S. Senate has not taken up our HEROES Act yet, though negotiations between the House, Senate and President are ongoing. I believe there will be an additional emergency assistance measure by the end of July, though at present I don’t know what specific programs might be extended.
My Office Is Here To Assist You
Throughout this crisis, both I and my great staff in D.C. and Honolulu have remained fully on the job and available to assist you and yours with any question or need. To date we have been able to respond to tens of thousands of you who have forwarded your own questions and suggestions on the issues we all face, as well as to assist thousands more with your own individual needs. We are here to serve you wherever and however we can, especially in this critical time for so many. Please contact us through our website at http://case.house.gov/contact, or else call us in D.C. at (202) 225-2726 or Honolulu at (808) 650-6688.
Please also visit my website at case.house.gov. There you will find information not only on COVID-19 but on my many other ongoing efforts on behalf of our country and Hawai’i.
Please Take My Survey Now
Hearing back from you however I can is critical to my ability to truly represent you. Please help me by taking a few minutes to complete my online survey here. Please note: This is completely anonymous. I won’t know who is replying and can’t track your responses back to you.
I very much appreciate your reviewing my e-newsletter and any response you may provide. I want you to know that I continue to take very seriously the responsibility of representing our Hawai’i and you in our United States Congress in this very difficult time, and continue to believe that we can and will come through this together.
Mahalo nui loa, and be well.
P.S. Please sign up for my regular e-newsletter here.