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Tuesday, May 26, 2020
May 26, 2020 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 2:16 PM :: 1158 Views

Alaska Is First to Fully Reopen After Pandemic Closures

Legislative Recess Designed to Prevent HGEA from Running Candidates Against Incumbents

CB:…The state Legislature, led by Senate President Ronald Kouchi (D-Kauai and Niihau) and House Speaker Scott Saiki (D- McCully, Kaheka, Kakaako, Downtown) have responded to these urgent needs by stashing $1.3 billion dollars into the state rainy day fund and recessing for three weeks so they can figure out how to spend it.

Apparently legislative leaders are afraid Governor Ige might spend the money without their approval. But they are not even sure how they want it spent. So they’ve given themselves three weeks to think about it.

Meanwhile the unemployed and the hungry twist in the wind.

… Minority Leader Gene Ward (R- Kalama Valley, Hawaii Kai), offered high praise for Speaker Saiki’s proposal saying without an iota of embarrassment on the House floor, “The rainy day fund is a political move …” and “We may do all that nonprofit and all that other stuff, but not right now.”…

Rather than take three weeks off (conveniently reconvening after the election filing deadline of June 2), the Legislature could and should stay in session and do the work. There is no shortage of ideas and policy proposals the legislature could pass today, that would help people today….

(Translation: We will use the CARES money for Unemployment Comp instead of HGEA and UPW salaries, but we don’t want to take the vote until June 2 is past..)

Related: Saiki: When Legislature Reconvenes, We Will Abandon Plan to Convert CARES Money into HGEA Payroll and Instead Apply it to Unemployment Compensation

Related: Without intervention, Hawaii government could run out of operating funds next year  

SA Editorial: Get money where it’s needed, ASAP

read … Legislative Leadership

Poll: COVID a Winner for Josh Green, a Loser for Caldwell

CB: … A new Civil Beat Poll, conducted in partnership with Hawaii News Now, found that 54% hold a negative opinion of Hawaii’s top elected official. Only 1 in 5 people surveyed see him in a positive light.

Ige’s numbers are in direct contrast to his second-in-command and fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. Josh Green. Nearly 70% of voters have a positive opinion of Green, with just 10% holding a negative view.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell also gets a grim review by voters. Statewide, he’s seen negatively by 41% of voters. That number rises to 47% on his own island of Oahu.

Caldwell is considering a run for governor in 2022, likely against Green who has been open about his intention to seek the state’s top job when the office comes open.

…Another Hawaii leader who comes up short in the eyes of voters is U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, whose 49% negative rating was far worse than that of her three colleagues in Washington. Her positive rating of 28% also lagged far behind positive marks for Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and Rep. Ed Case….

PDF: Poll Results

read … Poll

Council: ‘Kauai a Dictatorship’

TGI: … “The administration wants us to appropriate money, they come over and are nice and talk to us about what they want but (then) it’s back to being a dictatorship,” council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa said. “I don’t feel the teamwork.”

In the past two months, Mayor Derek Kawakami has created, amended and lifted 10 local rules, as well as implemented a four-day work week for county employees, established an Economic Recovery Strategy Team, and set up shop at the Kaua‘i Emeregency Management Agency’s Emergency Operations Center. Coucilmember Felicia Cowden said she went to visit the EOC and was “told to not come back.”

“We are elected officials. It is an erosion of democracy to not include us,” Cowden said during Wednesday’s meeting, talking to county Office of Economic Development Director Nalani Brun in regards to the strategy teams.

Kawakami acknowledged the lack of communication, pointing to the need to quickly make decisions and his authority and duty as mayor to make them.

“A lot has happened in a very short amount of time,” Kawakami wrote in a statement to The Garden Island. “We acknowledge that under normal circumstances, we would have time to adequately inform, deliberate and make decisions alongside the council. But this is not a political process. This is a pandemic, and we are in an emergency. We have to act quickly in order to protect life and safety.”….

Nearly every day, the mayor has shared videos underscoring the county’s COVID-19 response, providing information to residents. “Our highest priority throughout this pandemic has been to communicate with the public the best that we are able to ensure they receive timely updates, and we have done daily video updates since our first positive case,” Kawakami said.

Because these videos take precedent, elected officials are receiving the updates concurrently with the public. Councilmember Luke Evslin noted that there have been times he’s learned about new rules via the newspaper the next day.

“I fully acknowledge that many times our legislators are made aware of this information at the same time as the general public, and I appreciate their patience with us and their ongoing support,” Kawakami said, affirming that he and his staff are always available for council discussion when requested. “I also respect their request for more timely communication, and they have my commitment to improve in that area.”

Frustrated Kagawa said he would like more checks and balances.

“The mayor has the final call, but if we’re going to be yelled at by the public for not helping them, at least include us in coming up with some of the decisions,” Kagawa said.

“I know it’s a lot easier not to have people like me saying ‘no’ and everybody else saying ‘yes’ and Felicia wanting to talk for five minutes and nobody wanting to wait five minutes. It’s a lot easier, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing that deserves thinking outside of the box and allowing the legislative side to bring what we have.”….

TGI: “Financial stress and harm can be even worse than probably catching COVID and coming out of COVID,” Kagawa said.

TGI: Tomorrow, the council will hold a public hearing for the Mayor’s fiscal year 2020-2021 budget—how to participate

read … Communication breakdown

DoH Still Obstructing Mass COVID Testing at Nursing Homes

SA: … Hawaii must maintain and expand its stepped-up state vigilance of nursing homes and all other licensed care facilities, which have a combined capacity to support nearly 12,900 people.

For months now, the DOH’s standing guidance for facility operators — based, in part, on recommendations issued by federal agencies as well as the experience of other states — has created a social-distancing bubble by restricting visitors, limiting activities within facilities, and regularly checking health-care workers and residents for fever and other symptoms.

To avoid a puncture of the kupuna bubble, state officials must continue to work in tandem with facility operators and others to assess ongoing needs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing for COVID-19 infection — and prep for the possibility of a sudden surge in cases….

DOH has so far had success with a prioritized testing approach — and has regarded the idea of establishing frequent testing of long-term care residents and workers as impractical and unwarranted. But at the nation’s Capitol, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) sees the matter differently.

Earlier this month, in a letter to Gov. David Ige, Schatz asserted that while Hawaii’s comparatively low count of cases is encouraging, “additional steps, including dramatically expanded testing, are necessary to continue to protect these vulnerable residents and the workers of these facilities.”…

Related: Schatz calls for more testing at Hawaii nursing homes

read … DoH Obstructionism

Head of Labor Department: 190,000 could remain unemployed through end of year

HNN: …A staggering 242,000 people are unemployed in Hawaii.

And economists are predicting that less than half of those residents will be back in the workforce this year.

Scott Murakami, state director of Labor and Industrial Relations, expects the number of unemployed to be a consistent 150,000 — and that’s his optimistic view.

“My suspicion is that could be upwards as high as 190,000,” Murakami said. “I think by the end of this year, if we’re lucky, we’ll maybe bring back about 35% of the people that we lost at the peak.”

The massive wave of jobless claims took Hawaii from under 4% unemployment in February to the second-highest unemployment rate in the country in April.

According the state Labor Department, the total seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April was 22.3%.

The total labor force was 627,450 — with 487,550 employed and 139,900 unemployed….

CB: Hawaii’s True Jobless Rate Is A Mystery

HNN: In 2019, Hawaii saw 10M visitors. This year, the state projects visitor arrivals won’t top 3.5M

read … Head of Labor Department: 190,000 could remain unemployed through end of year

Hawaii’s Hotels Are Bleeding Cash Amid Shutdown

CB: Running even a small property like the White Sands Hotel in Waikiki costs a lot of money, even with few or no guests.… It adds up to at least $100,000 a month in fixed operating costs, he said….

To keep a 400- to 800-room hotel operationally ready can cost $1 million to $2 million a month, said Vieira, who now has his own consulting firm, KV & Associates….

Meanwhile, the property has few guests to pay for any of this.

“You’re protecting the asset, basically,” he said….

A prolonged shutdown will likely lead to the permanent loss of jobs and some business failures, executives say.

Even if Hawaii opens to tourism soon, it will likely take months for the industry to recover enough to rehire the large staffs needed when the state had 250,000 tourists a day.

And because hotels are among the state’s largest taxpayers, the decline means lost revenue for government at a time when people most need the help of government services.

“The public and the government leaders have no idea,” said Mufi Hannemann, a former Honolulu mayor who is now president and chief executive of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. “You look at a hotel that’s shuttered, they think we’re saving money — we’re not.”…

And it’s not just operating expenses. Furloughed employees generally don’t get paid, Hannemann said, but some hotels are still providing medical coverage to furloughed employees.

For two large companies with multiple properties, this is adding up to $1 million to $1.5 million each per month, he said.

And that’s not all. Most properties have debt payments, plus property taxes that can be well over $2 million per month for the big players. While the City and County of Honolulu has agreed to defer a (property tax) payment due in August, Hannemann said that just kicks the can down the road, and other counties haven’t been as helpful….

For example, according to a statement of finances published in February, seven of Oahu’s 10 largest property taxpayers last year were hotel and resort companies: Kyo-Ya Co., Hilton, Outrigger Hotels Hawaii, Ko Olina Hotel, Disney, Maps Waikiki Hotel and Halekulani Corp. The Top 10 paid a total of $172.5 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Kyo-Ya was the biggest. It owns several landmarks now managed by Marriott, which bought Starwood in 2016 — the Royal Hawaiian, Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Waikiki Hotel and the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel. Kyo-Ya alone paid $34 million last year, just less than $3 million a month.

On top of everything else, many hotels are having to return deposits made by guests planning summer vacation, said Jonathan McManus, the owner of Maui’s Hotel Wailea, which is regularly rated one of Hawaii’s top hotels by publications like Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler.

“It’s millions and millions of dollars,” McManus said….

May 16, 2020: Maui Council Rejects Property Tax Relief for Shuttered Hotels

SA: Hawaiian Air estimates daily cash burn at $3.6 million  

read … Hawaii’s Hotels Are Bleeding Cash Amid Shutdown

Retail recovery to be slow, very slow

SA: Shoppers lined up outside Ross Dress for Less and a few other shops, but business was still slow last weekend.

Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, also put out a plea in Monday’s COVID-19 Care Conversation that officials find lease rent relief for owners: “Cost is going up and up, and so is their debt.”…

Related: VIDEO: Retail Merchants of Hawaii’s Tina Yamaki and business owner Victor Lim join the COVID-19 Care Conversation

read … Retail recovery to be slow, very slow

Banks Only Process the Larges Companies' PPP Loan Requests

ILind: … Due to the high volume of requests we’ve received, we are unable to accept all applications. In addition, the Small Business Administration portal is overloaded and our ability to submit requests is limited. Because of our resources and the SBA’s limitations, we are forced to devote our efforts to process the loans that impact as many of Hawaii’s employees as possible….

read … Chasing those federal small business grants & loans

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