OHA report casts critical eye on Hawaiian nonprofit’s management of public funds

CNHA said all of the compliance issues cited in the OHA report have since been resolved.
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 7:11 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 6, 2022 at 5:18 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When the 2020 statewide shutdown shuttered hundreds of businesses and put hundreds of thousands people out of work, Iwalani Laybon-McBrayer tried to apply for a $1,500 financial aid grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

She and her husband — who are both Native Hawaiian — were forced to close their business and needed the money to help pay for their mortgage. But they were told that the program had run out of money.

“How could it have filled up so fast, you know, I guess it did, but you know, so I was kind of bummed,” said Laybon-McBrayor.

Laybon-McBrayer said she was later “shocked” when she found out that the company OHA hired to manage the financial aid program — the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement — was harshly criticized in a 2020 report for how it managed the financial aid program.

“You’re in a COVID and a global pandemic. You know, you want the help,” said Laybon-McBrayer, who once served on CNHA’s board. “I was quite disappointed.”

The OHA report found that 37 out of 50 grants its auditors randomly selected didn’t fully comply with OHA’s documentation requirements.

Most were missing documentation showing financial need — such as bank statements, rent leases, utility bills or layoff notices indicating the person lost their job. Two applicants were not able to fully document their Hawaiian ancestry at the time.

The program was funded by OHA and not the federal government.

One former Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee said the report raises questions about favoritism.

“Certain people were getting grants over and over again, not allowing new people to come in and get grants,” said former OHA Trustee Rowena Akana.

But the CNHA said all of the compliance issues cited in the OHA report have since been resolved.

“Anything that had been flagged had been fully addressed, or approved, all of those, and the contract came to an end,” said Amy Kalili, president of CNHA’s board.

CNHA said that when money for the OHA program ran out, beneficiaries like Laybon-McBrayer could have applied for financial aid from a separate program they managed for the city, which is available to Hawaiian and non-Hawaiians alike.

It added that the OHA report documentation demanded by OHA was overly rigid — put in place before the chaos of the pandemic in 2020.

“You have situations where people are trying to get documentation for various things whether it’s financial need or proving their native Hawaiian ancestry from offices that... literally had been shut down,” said Kalili.

OHA beneficiary Demont Conner agrees. He applied from the OHA financial aid program and was rejected. But he blames OHA, not CNHA.

“There was just so much red tape,” Conner said.

“What’s ironic is that Hawaiians will take a bureaucratic system and make it 10-times more bureaucratic than the people who actually introduced that system to us.”