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At an emergency meeting held Friday, March 20, the Maui County Council approved $6 million in budget amendments to allow the use of money from the county’s Emergency Fund to assist with response the COVID-19 pandemic. Four million dollars will go to support county departments, and $2 million would go to support individuals and families in need (the “Hawaii Emergency Laulima Partnership: A temporary emergency crisis assistance program”). The $4 million amendment passed after one reading and will become law; the $2 million amendment passed a first reading and will have to go through a second reading before becoming law.
The first bill allows $4 million dollars to be moved from the Emergency Fund for county departments that are dealing with costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill passed on one reading without the need for a second reading. (Bills are typically required multiple readings before becoming law; during an emergency the requirement for a multiple readings can be waived, as the council voted to do today.)
The request for money was “in response and preparation for the increased operational cost and emergency services for this community,” said Mayor Michael Victorino. “The departments have tripled their efforts in cleaning, sanitizing, and working for a safe work environment for not only themselves but the general public at large. Response efforts and emergency services will continue to increase.”
The mayor was unable to provide an itemized list of costs or exact amounts, saying that costs were unknown and that “it’s really hard to tell you how this emergency will move from moment to moment.” He ensured that the departments would take proper accounting measures, and managing director Sandy Baz later added that a portion of the funds will be reimbursable by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (but that can take two to three years, he said).
When asked about where COVID-19 testing was on the priority list for usage of funds, Baz answered that testing kits were the No. 2 priority.
The second bill that passed was a $2 million package to establish a temporary program designed to assist individuals in need due to a loss of employment or income from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related business closures. The bill passed without the emergency waiver, meaning it will need to pass a second reading before becoming law. It will likely go to the council for a second reading during a Friday, March 27 meeting.
The program is designed after a similar program that was implemented to help people impacted by the economic effects of September 11. Funds could be used to assist individuals with housing, food, utility, car, insurance, and medical payments, Baz said.
“We need to address those in the private sector that do not have the coverage and the benefits that are gonna hurt the most. As we know they live check by check,” said Councilmember Riki Hokama on the need for the program. “That’s who I hope this money will be directed to. They’re already being laid off.”
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