A shot in the arm: Council members push programs to help beleaguered businesses

  • Tim Richards

  • Ashley Kierkiewicz

Two Hawaii County Council members are working on programs to bring fast relief to small businesses and farmers reeling from the economic downturn brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards has been working on a “BRIDGES” program for local agricultural producers.

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Announced Thursday, the public-private partnership will strengthen local agriculture production by purchasing locally grown food and flowers that will then be donated to recognized and approved community organizations for distribution.

“As of today, we have secured $150,000 of the $200,000 original goal,” Richards said in a press release. “This milestone is a major success in our mission to bridge the gap between the start of this economic crisis and when state and federal funding may become available.”

The project funding will be managed by the Hawaii Farm Bureau. Participants of “BRIDGES” are not required to be members of HFB.

The application can be found at https://bit.ly/3bGJ2Ar .

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, meanwhile, introduced an emergency resolution at Wednesday’s council meeting that seeks to set up a $250,000 Residential and Small Business Resilience Emergency Loan Program to help vulnerable households and small businesses connect to technical assistance, information and obtain critical emergency relief assistance.

“Two hundred fifty thousand dollars is a great way for us to stand it up locally, so when money come in from the state or federal government, we’ll have a program in place,” Kierkiewicz said.

Kierkiewicz’s Resolution 599, which passed unanimously Wednesday, would create a program similar to that on Kauai, offering no-interest loans, using Hawaii Community Foundation’s Island Strong Fund to subsidize interest and fees.

She also asked if the program could tap into the recent $1.5 million Community Development Block Grant the county received from the federal government for COVID-19 relief.

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Finance Director Deanna Sako said that money is already spoken for. A bill that subsequently passed on first reading allocated the money this way: $250,033 for administration, $643,033 for the The Food Basket, $300,000 for HOPE Services, $150,000 for the Hawaii County Economic Opportunity Council and $200,000 for the Boys and Girls Club. Bill 159 has one more reading before going to Mayor Harry Kim for his signature.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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