Hawaii to use $10M in virus funds for jobs outside tourism

Hawaii to use $10M in virus funds for jobs outside tourism
File photo of Honolulu (Source: Hawaii News Now/file)

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii plans to use at least $10 million in federal coronavirus recovery funds to bolster jobs beyond the state’s vital tourism industry in sectors including agriculture, health care and technology.

State officials hope to use the federal money to diversify Hawaii’s economy, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

Democratic Gov. David Ige and state lawmakers are working on how to fully disburse $1.25 billion allocated to Hawaii as part of the federal economic response to the pandemic.

Hawaii’s legislation overseeing the funds allocates $10 million for workforce retraining and development programs to help expand the state’s tourism-heavy economy.

The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism determined $10 million is sufficient for launching retraining programs, but additional funds are available as needed, Ige said in a statement.

Democratic Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz said the initiative will pay about $13 per hour to employees for on-the-job training until the end of the year, when the federal recovery money must be spent.

“What we tried to do was to get people off unemployment and start to seed non-tourism sector jobs,” Dela Cruz said.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported visitors spent $17.6 billion in Hawaii in 2018. Most of that revenue was lost after the COVID-19 outbreak prompted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers arriving from outside the state.

The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization reported this month that nearly 20% of businesses essentially have had no revenue since January, while another 20% reported losses of at least half their monthly revenue.

Dela Cruz and others believe this is the time to start diversifying Hawaii’s economy.

“We’ve been on the gravy train of tourism for so long that people just don’t know how to adjust anymore,” Dela Cruz said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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