5 Things Hawaii: Economic forecast, CRF spending, International perspective on COVID

At the rate 2020 is going, who knows what might happen by the end of the year. Menehune might come back with fishing gear on Kauai. Pele could kickstart Kilauea. Or we might find out Elvis lives and runs a small art gallery in Maui. Who knows at this point.

But what I think I know is that history is happening very fast right now. And, when things happen fast, they can break. So, take care to protect the things that matter. Elections come and go. Friends and ohana last. So, be intentional about taking care of things that matter amid the hullabaloo of this election season.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. UHERO Economic forecast

UHERO’s latest state forecast update points to a 6-month delay in Hawaii’s economic recovery due to the summer surge in COVID-19. Executive Director Carl Bonham presented the forecast during a House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness meeting last week.

In terms of long-term effects, Bonham says if Hawaii’s recovery is slower than the rest of the US, it will likely exacerbate the population decline the state has seen in recent years. “It’s a drag on the overall economy. We’re talking continued population loss for the next several years. Basically, that means that at the end of this forecast sample, in 2025, we’re still about 20,000-25,000 jobs short of where we were in 2019. And our unemployment rate is getting back near the 3.5% to 4% range, but we’ve lost population, we’ve lost labor force and so we’re a smaller economy.”


2. Oct. 15 opening to tourism

The reopening to tourism on October 15th without a mandatory 14-day quarantine marks a significant step in Hawaii’s economic recovery. Despite the new partnerships and improved programs put in place to limit the spread of the virus, some state leaders are worried about what the loosened travel restrictions might mean for their communities.

On Monday, Ige denied Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami’s request to establish an additional post-arrival testing program for travelers to Kauai. That same day, Ige gave each county the option to opt out of the pre-travel testing program, and Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim is considering the option. A recent survey from the University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center also found that 8 in 10 people didn’t want tourists visiting their communities right now.


3. Two recent interviews

Making the shift to all virtual conferences at State of Reform has introduced new challenges, but it’s also revealed new opportunities. In the last few weeks, I had the opportunity to host a few conversations that are unique to State of Reform, I think, and which are worth commending to you.

First, I interviewed US Senator Mitt Romney a few weeks ago. We talked about where we might expect action in Congress on health policy (like surprise billing), and the challenge of working in Congress during such a polarizing time. Last week, I hosted an international conversation on the experience of COVID. That included leaders from London, Rome and Nairobi. Both are worth watching, if you’ve got some time to geek out with me.

4. Ige outlines CRF spending plan

Gov. Ige announced last week that 98% of the $863 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund money received in April has been allocated to assist the state in its COVID-19 response effort. The news comes after US Sen. Mazie Hirono sent a letter to Ige at the end of September calling for a detailed plan on how the state would utilize the millions of CRF funds that must be spent by the end of the year.

$100 million of the CRF is going toward housing relief and resiliency, $5 million will go to staff a new 200-person call center for the state unemployment office, $75 million will go toward the new dining card program, and over $175 million has been distributed to neighbor island counties. A full breakdown of federal spending is available at the Hawaii Data Collaborative.


5. Hawaii receives top marks on latest scorecard

Hawaii has once again taken the top spot in the Commonwealth Fund’s 2020 Scorecard on State Health System Performance. The data, which includes data collected prior to the COVID pandemic, shows Hawaii in the top 10 for all categories including #1 rankings for “Avoidable Hospital Use and Cost” and “Healthy Lives.”

The state also performed well on “Prevention and Treatment” (#2) and “Access and Affordability” (#3). Hawaii’s lowest ranking was for measurements of disparity (#10) where the state has dropped 8 rankings in recent years. Data on all 49 measures used to determine these rankings can be found here.