New federal budget bill boosts funding for Native Hawaiian programs

Updated: Mar. 22, 2018 at 10:25 PM HST
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WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - Congress has approved a $1.3 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill that boosts funding for several programs in Hawaii.

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz called it "the best appropriations bill that we've seen for Hawaii since I got here."

The bill got some pushback from conservative Republicans in the Senate, who didn't like big money outlays from Democratic lawmakers.

President Trump's budget plan would have zeroed out funding for Native Hawaiian education and health programs. Instead, Congress approved a budget funding those programs for a total of $55 million -- even more than last year.

"In new and increased funding, we got $3 million more for Native Hawaiian education, $3 million more for Native Hawaiian health care," said Schatz.

The news was welcomed by agencies like Papa Ola Lokahi, the Native Hawaiian Health Board authorized by the federal Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act in 1988.

"It's really exciting because it's in there," said Papa Ola Lokahi executive director Sheri-Ann Daniels. "It definitely shows the work that we've been doing, not only with the health and the congressional folks, but with the other Native Hawaiian acts, because it was not just health that was awarded."

Daniels added "It can help communities, not only on Oahu but statewide -- enhance programs, continue to provide services, not just for native Hawaiians, but for communities."

The budget deal also increases funding for affordable housing projects by nearly $6 million, to $41.4 million. Highway and transportation was increased $3.5 million to $177.4 million. Bus and transit systems will receive $7.6 million, a $2.6 million increase from last year.

There's also a total of $317 million for military construction in Hawaii, up $100 million.

Veterans Affairs also got a big increase nationally, which will fund projects in Hawaii.

"We anticipate that this additional funding is going to allow us to build a 120-bed facility on the island of Oahu," said Schatz. The facility will be for extended care for veterans.

Several programs that faced elimination or major cuts from the Trump Administration's budget were restored, including the NOAA Tsunami Alert System. There's also money for research at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the East-West Center, and for Oahu's Honouliuli Interment Camp monument, which was funded through the Japanese-American Confinement Site program.

"This was the first year that funding was not included in the president's budget, and there was a lot of concern whether there was a commitment to continuing this very important program," said Carole Hiyashino of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. She said the program had been funded every year since 2006.

"It tells our story," she said. "It tells the story of Japanese in Hawaii, and it educates not only the public, but in particular educates our own community on our very unique history."

President Trump is expected to sign the bill, which averts a third government shutdown this year. It will keep the government running through September.

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