Senate Passes Massive COVID Relief Measure

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On Saturday, the US Senate voted to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that includes at least $6.1 billion in estimated funding for Hawai‘i.

The American Rescue Plan Act – the second largest emergency relief package in American history and a trillion dollars more than the last package passed in December – includes funding for unemployment assistance, and aid for small businesses, vaccine distribution, schools, and health care workers.

“Billions of dollars are coming to Hawai‘i to help families and small businesses,” said Senator Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This new package will deliver immediate help to people who have lost their job(s) or can’t make their rent. It provides funding for schools and health care, and will give our state more resources to get people vaccinated.”

The COVID-19 relief package also includes significant funding for state and local governments to cover budget shortfalls, as well as more resources for Native Hawaiian health, housing, and education programs. The bill is expected to pass the House of Representatives and be signed into law by the president in the coming days.

Key provisions in the COVID-19 relief package include:

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State and county assistance – At least $2.2 billion for Hawai‘i

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·       Funding may be used to bolster state and local budgets that have sustained significant tax revenue loss due to the pandemic

o   $1.6 billion for the State of Hawai‘i

o   $365 million for the City and County of Honolulu

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o   $36 million for the County of Hawai‘i

o   $13 million for the County of Kaua‘i

o   $30 million for the County of Maui

·       Another $116 million will go to the State of Hawai‘i for critical capital projects to enable work, education, and healthcare in response to the pandemic

Unemployment assistance – At least $575 million in estimated funding for Hawai‘i workers

·       Available to self-employed individuals, part-time workers, independent contractors, and gig workers, including ride-sharing drivers

·       Covers those who are sick, quarantined, furloughed, or whose family circumstances keep them from working or reduce their pay as a result of the coronavirus outbreak or government containment efforts

·       Aid will cover salaries up to about $65,000 through September 6 with an additional $300 per week

·       Makes the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits collected in 2020 tax free for those households whose income was less than $150,000

Rent and mortgage relief – Estimated $226.5 million for Hawai‘i

·       An estimated $152 million to help Hawai‘i residents who lost their job or saw a significant reduction in income due to the pandemic to make rent

·       Approximately $18 million in HOME program funding which provides resources to help communities build and maintain affordable housing

·       At least $50 million for a new Homeowner Assistance Program to help Hawai‘i families who are behind on their mortgages or already in foreclosure as a result of the pandemic.

·       $6.5 million in Native Hawaiian Housing Assistance, including:

o   $5 million to the DHHL COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which is estimated to aid 800 households, including beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries. The DHHL program helps renters both on and off Hawaiian Home Lands pay for rent, utilities, security deposits and other expenses related to housing incurred due to the pandemic.

o   $1.5 million to DHHL to help homesteaders. Funds can be used for mortgage assistance, assistance after forbearance, principal reduction, utilities, property taxes, and other expenses to prevent foreclosure, default, or utility shut off.

·       Access to $5 billion nationally to help Public Agencies with emergency Housing Choice Vouchers, increased rental costs, and increased administrative costs

·       Access to $100 million nationally for emergency rental assistance for rural housing

·       Access to $100 million nationally to states and NeighborWorks to provide housing counseling services

Small businesses and non-profits – $60 billion nationally

·       An additional $7.25 billion for forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to small businesses and non-profits, to help them maintain existing workforce and pay for other expenses like rent, mortgage, and utilities

o   Hawai‘i small businesses and non-profits have received more than $900 million in PPP loans so far in 2021, adding to the $2.5 billion Hawai‘i small businesses and non-profits received in 2020

o   This bill expands eligibility for non-profits and internet-only news and periodical publishers

·       $25 billion for a new program at the Small Business Administration (SBA) that will make grants to restaurants, bars, and other food and drinking establishments

o   Grants will be available in an amount equal to a business’s pandemic-related revenue loss, up to $10 million (and $5 million per physical location)

o   Eligible entities include restaurants, food stands and food trucks, caterers, bars and lounges, brewpubs and tasting rooms, inns, taverns, and similar businesses, including those located in airport terminals

o   Funding can be used for a wide variety of expenses, including payroll, mortgage, rent, utilities, maintenance expenses (including construction to accommodate outdoor seating), supplies (including protective equipment and cleaning materials), food and beverage expenses, operational expenses, and paid sick leave

·       An additional $1.25 billion for the SBA’s Shuttered Venue Operators grant program, an assistance program created in the December relief law specifically for theaters, museums, and other live entertainment venues

o   This bill will now allow eligible entities to access both the SVO grant program and PPP, which was previously prohibited.

·       $15 billion nationally for additional targeted Economic Injury Disaster Loan emergency advance grants, reserved for the smallest and most severely impacted businesses in low-income communities

·       At least $60 million for Hawai‘i from the renewed State Small Business Credit Initiative administered by the Department of the Treasury. The updated program provides low-cost loans and equity investments in small businesses.

Vaccine distribution and procurement – $7.5 billion nationally, including at least $20 million for Hawai‘i

·       Funding will be used to help distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines

Testing, contact tracing, and mitigation – $47.8 billion nationally

·       This funding will expand capacity for COVID-19 testing to effectively monitor and suppress COVID–19, conduct surveillance and contact tracing activities, and support other COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

·       In addition, the bill provides $1.75 billion nationally for genomic sequencing and surveillance efforts.

Healthcare – Estimated $150 million for Hawai‘i

·       $20 million to the Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems, which provide critical access to health education, promotion, disease prevention, and primary care services for thousands of Native Hawaiians. This funding will support five health centers on Hawai‘i Island, Kauai, Molokai, Maui, and Oahu

·       An estimated $50 million to Hawai‘i’s community health centers to help address the health care needs of local communities across the state

·       An estimated $40 million for rural health care providers

·       An estimated $15 million to support several mental health programs, including the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant. The bill also includes funding to support mental health training for health care professionals and public safety officers and to promote mental and behavioral health among the health care workforce.

·       At least $25 million in estimated funding for a new program that will recruit, hire, and train new public health workers in Hawai‘i

Direct cash payments – Estimated $1.7 billion to Hawai‘i residents

·       Households will get a one-time cash payment of $1,400 per adult and an additional $1,400 per dependent, including both children and non-child dependents

·       An eligible family of four will receive up to $5,600

·       Benefits start to phase out for those with incomes exceeding $75,000 for singles, $112,500 for single parents, and $150,000 for married couples

Nursing homes – Estimated $1.4 million for Hawai‘i

·       At least $428,000 in estimated funding to the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo to upgrade facilities and support its continued operations

·       An estimated $1 million to deploy strike teams to long-term care facilities experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks

Education – At least $634 million in estimated funding for Hawai‘i schools

·       An estimated $391 million for Hawai‘i in Elementary and Secondary School (K-12) Emergency Relief Funding

o   At least $78 million must be used to address learning loss

·       An additional $85 million specifically for Native Hawaiian Education Programs

·       An estimated $98 million from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to support Hawai‘i’s colleges and universities

·       At least $60 million in estimated funding for Hawai‘i to support Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions and Asian American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions

Electric and water utility assistance – Estimated $6 million for Hawai‘i households

·       Additional Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, funding to help Hawaiian Electric, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, and Hawai‘i Gas customers pay their bills

·       New funding to help low-income households pay for drinking water and wastewater utility expenses

Child care and welfare programs – Estimated $138 million for Hawai‘i

·       An estimated $136.5 million for child care programs including the Child Care and Development Block Grant and child care stabilization grants

·       An estimated $1.4 million in child abuse and neglect prevention programs

Early childhood education – Estimated $3.5 million for Hawai‘i

·       Funding will support Head Start programs in Hawai‘i, which provides comprehensive early childhood education and development services to low-income children

Transportation – At least $380 million in estimated funding for Hawai‘i

·       $165 million to ensure that transit services in Hawai‘i continue operating with enhanced safety procedures for passengers and staff

·       $70 million in Capital Improvement Grants for Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) to help the city pay for part of its share by covering the loss in local tax revenue caused by the pandemic

·       $144 million for Hawai‘i airports. Funds can be used for operations and expenses related to coronavirus safety procedures as well as a set-aside for aide to in-terminal airport concessions and other service providers

·       Access to $15 billion in national funding to airlines and contractors for workforce salaries and benefits to prevent layoffs

Senior and disability support programs – Estimated $9.2 million for Hawai‘i

·       Funding supports several health care, nutrition, and supportive services for older Americans and people with disabilities and their caregivers

Arts and humanities – At least $2.37 million in estimated funding for Hawai‘i

·       An estimated $770,400 for Hawai‘i through the National Endowment for the Arts

·       An estimated $842,400 for Hawai‘i through the National Endowment for the Humanities

·       An estimated $759,086 for the Hawai‘i State Public Library System through the Institute of Museum and Library Services

Expansion of the Child Tax Credit

·       For 2021, the bill increases the maximum Child Tax Credit (CTC) from $2,000 to $3,000, with an additional $600 for each child under the age of six, and extends the full credit to 17 year old children

o   The increased amount phases out at $150,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, $112,500 for heads of households, and $75,000 for individual filers

·       Makes the CTC fully refundable for 2021 so that the lowest income families receive the full credit

·       These changes are estimated to help over 300,000 children in Hawai‘i who currently don’t qualify for the full tax credit

Health insurance

·       The bill includes premium assistance of 100 percent for COBRA continuation coverage for eligible individuals and families through September 31, 2021.

o   This will allow individuals who lost their job-based health insurance to keep their insurance and receive federal funding to pay for the full COBRA premium. 

·       The bill also significantly reduces premiums for the Affordable Care Act marketplace plans for 2021 and 2022, including by increasing premium tax credits and ensuring that no marketplace enrollee, regardless of income, spends more than 8.5 percent of their income on premiums

o   In Hawai‘i, a family of four with an income of $120,000 is projected to save $551 per month on their premium payments

Emergency federal employee paid leave – $570 million nationally

·       Funding supports paid leave for federal employees who cannot work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as if they are sick, are caring for a family member who is sick, or are caring for a child whose school or childcare facility is closed

Food and nutrition programs

·       An extension of 15 percent in monthly SNAP benefits to ensure that all Americans receive the food they need

·       The bill also boosts WIC benefits and also supports other nutrition programs

Agriculture – $4 billion nationally

·       Funding will support the purchase of agricultural commodities from farmers and ranchers, grants, and loans for small and medium-sized food processors and distributors (including seafood) for measures to respond to and protect workers from COVID, and for food supply chain resiliency

·       $1 billion nationally to provide technical assistance and institutional support for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, including Native Hawaiians

·       The American Rescue Plan also gives the USDA authority to provide farm loan assistance by making payments of up to 120% of outstanding agricultural loans as of Jan. 1, 2021, made to farmers and ranchers from socially disadvantaged groups.

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