To help in the continued fight against COVID-19, state officials are working to secure federal funding to extend the deployment of the Hawaii National Guard.
Gov. David Ige said Monday during a livestream with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that most governors are asking for such an extension under Title 32 of the U.S. Code.
During a call Monday with the White House, Ige said Vice President Mike Pence “committed to make sure that request gets in front of the president before the end of the year. That authority expires at the end of the year as well.”
Hawaii’s congressional delegation last week asked President Donald Trump to approve Ige’s request to extend authorization and funding for Hawaii National Guard’s COVID-19 response operations through March 31, 2021.
“The governor’s request would allow the Hawaii National Guard to continue critical and timely support across the state of Hawaii that is essential to helping the public remain safe during the pandemic,” U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Ed Case wrote in a Nov. 24 letter to the president. “These brave soldiers and airmen are performing essential missions, such as contact tracing, operating mobile swab teams, delivering health education to at-risk communities, screening travelers and supporting food and medical supply distribution. We also anticipate that the Hawaii National Guard will be instrumental in supporting the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to the public.”
Any lapse in the authorization and funding under Title 32 would be detrimental to Hawaii’s pandemic response and long-term economic recovery, the delegation wrote.
Regarding other federal coronavirus funding, Ige said the National Governors Association, as well as Hawaii’s congressional delegation, don’t anticipate action on additional relief packages before the end of the year.
“We are planning on the assumption that CARES Act funding ends,” Ige said. “Certainly that’s a big concern. Right now, we’re using CARES Act funds for unemployment benefits for those who continue to be unemployed. The food, rent and mortgage relief were funded with CARES Act (money), and clearly the state doesn’t have the funds to continue those programs.
“We are looking at, based on the assumption we don’t get any further federal assistance, about what level of National Guard support we can continue to spend on. We also are looking at contact tracing and testing as really primary responsibilities.”
The state also would have to fund screening activities at airports if more federal money is not available.
“Probably in the next two weeks, we’ll have a better idea about the things that the state will just pick up the tabs for, because we know that it’s critical to the pandemic response, regardless of whether there’s federal assistance.”
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