Lawmakers reach tentative agreement on CARES Act spending bill

Updated: May. 10, 2020 at 5:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the state legislature is set to reconvene on Monday, lawmakers have reached a tentative deal on a key bill allocating $862 million in state CARES Act money to the neighbor islands and for emergency services.

What’s unusual about the measure is that it’s lawmakers ― and not Governor David Ige’s administration ― who are directing how the emergency money should be spent.

The CARES Act money has to be spent by the end of the year or else it lapses. And there’s a growing concern that the Ige Administration isn’t spending the money fast enough.

“A lot of people would think that it’s troubling that some of this money ― particularly money dedicated to emergency services ― hasn’t been spent already," said Hawaii News Now political analyst Colin Moore. “The legislature wants to be aggressive with the use of these funds. This is an emergency situation and I think it’s a time where it’s better to act and ask for forgiveness later."

The bill provides $180 million dollars for the neighbor island counties for coronavirus testing and contact tracing, and to pay for services such as police and firefighters.

“Honolulu got $250 million directly from the feds. We’re going to use the same formula to give moneys to Kauai, Big Island and Maui," said state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Another $100 million goes to the Hawaii Department of Defense while the largest amount ― about $550 million ― will go into the rainy day fund.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said that money will help pay for unemployment benefits.

“The unemployment fund is expected to be depleted in a month or so. When that happens the state will have to replenish the fund," said Saiki.

Dela Cruz, (D) Central Oahu, said the bill provides for greater transparency.

For instance, the counties need to provide a monthly report to the Legislature and the Ige Administration on who they spends the CARES Act money, he said.

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