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Schatz to brief County Council on federal coronavirus aid

  • SCHATZ

Hawaii County will get $36 million to prop up a budget diminished by the coronavirus pandemic, and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz is scheduled Wednesday to brief the County Council about how it can be spent.

The direct aid to the county is part of a $6.1 billion relief package for Hawaii government and its residents contained in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act signed Thursday by President Joe Biden.

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Schatz, D-Hawaii, scheduled just 30 minutes for the update, to be conducted by Zoom during the council’s meeting that starts at 1 p.m. Wednesday. To register to testify, call 961-8255 or email jean.muramoto@hawaiicounty.gov by noon Tuesday. Submit written testimony to counciltestimony@hawaii.gov.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who requested the briefing, said she wants to be sure the county is ready.

“I invited Sen. Schatz to brief the council on the next tranche of COVID relief funds headed to our state in an effort to be proactive,” she said Thursday. “I want to be sure our county readies the necessary infrastructure to receive the federal stimulus and position ourselves to spend it effectively; we have to balance providing ongoing emergency response and catalyzing (the) economy.”

Kierkiewicz has asked fellow council members to send her their questions so she can organize them and ask them in the limited time available.

Council Chairwoman Maile David said she welcomes the briefing.

“I am very happy for the citizens of Hawaii County and our state to finally get this desperately needed financial relief — it’s about time,” David said. “Much mahalo to President Biden and Congress, and especially to our Hawaii congressional team.”

The direct county aid is flexible and counties will be able to put it where it’s needed most, according to the National Association of Counties.

“For too long, the pressing challenges and needs facing our counties have outstripped our depleted local resources,” said NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase on Thursday in a press release. “The passage of this bill affirms a strong federal-state-local partnership, an investment in counties on the front lines and a commitment to defeating this pandemic together.”

Schatz, in a Saturday press release, said the direct county aid can be “to bolster state and local budgets that have sustained significant tax revenue loss due to the pandemic.”

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Wile Hawaii County gets $36 million, Honolulu gets $365 million, Maui gets $30 million and Kauai gets $13 million. State government will get $1.6 billion, plus another $116 million will go to the state for critical capital projects to enable work, education and health care in response to the pandemic.

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

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