Funding measures for HINET, Hawaii Promise sent to Ige

  • Meisenzahl
  • Bhanot
  • Solemsaas

Dozens of Hawaii Community College students will be among those who will benefit if legislation to fund programs intended to help community college students overcome barriers to education is signed by Gov. David Ige.

The first of two measures recently passed by the Legislature, Senate Bill 50, will appropriate $455,000 from general revenues during the next two years for the Hawaii Nutrition Employment and Training program.

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The program provides students assistance that can total more than $4,700 a year for food, transportation, books and other expenses.

“Certainly we are very, very grateful and blessed to have the state Legislature support this wonderful program,” said HCC Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas.

Spokesman Thatcher Moats said HCC has had 433 HINET applicants since the program began at HCC in July 2017, including at the Palamanui and Hilo campuses, and provided HINET services to 165 students. There currently are about 70 HCC students enrolled in the program.

HINET, which launched in 2015, was developed by the state Department of Human Services in partnership with Oahu’s Windward Community College to reduce the cost of education for the state’s most vulnerable populations and help them get good paying jobs, according to the University of Hawaii.

To qualify for the program, students must enroll at a UH community college and in a workforce certificate training program or take at least six credits in an approved degree program. UH has seven community college campuses throughout the state, including Hawaii Community College on the Big Island.

Students also must qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and can substitute their education and employment training for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 20-hour weekly work requirement, which will allow them to maintain their SNAP benefits while pursuing a college education.

A number of Hawaii residents are on SNAP or eligible for the program, Solemsaas said, and one way to support those individuals is “giving them opportunities for upward mobility so they no longer need SNAP. Education is a key part of that.”

Pankaj Bhanot, director of the Department of Human Services, said in written testimony submitted for a hearing of the House Finance Committee that DHS supported the program.

“DHS is working to reduce the incidences and impact of intergenerational poverty,” he wrote. “The one proven pathway out of poverty is through education. The HINET program provides additional financial and one-to-one support to help college students attend to their basic needs, like finding child care, and assists with job matching.”

The funding allocated by the Legislature will be used for materials, supplies and the hiring of seven full-time instructional and student support positions. HCC is allocated one of those positions.

Solemsaas said the person in that new role will make sure federal guidelines and program requirements are met and will provide outreach and support to students.

A second measure, Senate Bill 316, will appropriate $700,000 each year for the next two years to continue Hawaii Promise, a last-dollar scholarship program that covers financial needs of qualified UH community college students that are not met by other forms of financial aid and scholarships.

In his budget proposal last year, Ige requested $19 million to expand the program to all four-year UH institutions in addition to the system’s community colleges.

However, UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said the appropriations from the Legislature will maintain the status quo and fund the program at the same level it has been for the past two years.

While the request for additional funding was not approved, Meisenzahl said the expansion of Hawaii Promise is something for which UH will continue to advocate.

According to UH, students are considered for Hawaii Promise when they submit their FAFSA application. Students must qualify for state resident tuition and be enrolled in a degree program at a UH community college for at least six credits per semester.

Moats said for the current academic year, 84 HCC students were awarded Hawaii Promise scholarships totaling $96,085.

It is “heartening to know that our (legislative) leaders recognize and are committed in investing in our human capital through these programs,” Solemsaas said.

The programs are great investments and recognize that some residents face an “educational achievement gap resulting from lack of opportunities, including food security and the financial capacity or resources to go back to school (to) earn their degree or certificate,” she said.

Meisenzahl said that in terms of impact to an individual, their family and society, “there’s really nothing else” like higher education to lift oneself from their current socioeconomic status to another.

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SB 50 and SB 316 have been sent to Ige for consideration.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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