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Hawai‘i lawmakers reduce financial grants

HONOLULU — State lawmakers this year dialed back financial grants awarded to private projects and programs with public purposes, but kept the level of giving on par with other recent years.

Hawaii’s Legislature approved $30 million in grants this year to around 150 applicants amid a challenging budgetary picture that included the need to appropriate roughly $1 billion for Maui wildfire response and recovery work.

The $30 million allocated was down from about $40 million in 2023 and $49 million in 2022, when the state was flush with big budget surpluses largely from federal coronavirus recovery funding.

However, this year’s grant total is at about the same level as it was during several years prior to 2020 and 2021, when grants were suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a reeling local economy.

Rep. Scott Nishimoto, chair of the Legislature’s Subcommittee on Grants-in-Aid, said having less money available for grants this year while demand remained high made the selection process difficult.

“The needs are getting greater, but this year we had a lot less money,” he said.

“So it was very tough. It was a very tough year.”

The Legislature received 322 grant applications this year. Nishimoto (D, Moiliili-McCully) said the subcommittee tried to spread grant awards over a broad section of the community and categories.

Grant awards can be for program operations or capital improvement projects, and they largely are in areas of health care, social services, arts, education and culture. Most grants go to nonprofit organizations, but also can go to for-profit businesses if the funding has a public purpose.

Mel Kaneshige, president of the nonprofit 442nd Legacy Center, a successful grant applicant, said he was thankful for the award given all the competing interests for legislative funding this year.

The nonprofit is working to establish a museum to display records, artifacts and memorabilia of the highly decorated volunteer 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army formed by Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

The planned museum also is to feature histories of two other AJA units: the 100th Infantry Battalion and 1399th Engineer Construction Battalion.

To create the museum, the 442nd Legacy Center plans to renovate a more than 50-year-old apartment building in Moiliili that partly serves as the 442nd Veterans Club. The estimated project cost is $2.2 million. The nonprofit previously had received $600,000 in grants from the Legislature — $300,000 in 2019 and $300,000 in 2023.

This year 442nd Legacy Center applied for $1.5 million to finish the project.

“The story of the Americans of Japanese Ancestry, who volunteered to serve their country despite prejudice, must not be forgotten,” the nonprofit said in its application.

Though the 442nd Legacy Center was selected this year for another $300,000 award instead of its full request, Kaneshige said it will continue to advance the museum project in phases.

Legislative grant-in-aid applicants often receive less than they seek because lawmakers generally want to help as many applicants as they can with a limited pool of money.

The size of grant awards this year ranged from $20,000 to $800,000. The biggest award in 2023 was $1 million; it was $1.6 million in 2022.

Two organizations this year received $800,000 grant awards. One is an affiliate of the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, which applied for $2.5 million to help develop a $7.5 million emergency food warehouse.

The other $800,000 awardee is Maui nursing home operator Hale Mauka Health Services, which sought $3.5 million to help develop a 46-bed patient rehabilitation facility.

The largest operating grant award this year was $275,000 for the Hawai‘i Agricultural Foundation, which had sought $504,938 to help expand the local agricultural workforce.

Other operating grant awards included $125,000 for the Hawai‘i Motorsports Foundation to help develop a raceway park on O‘ahu, $100,000 for the Molokai Homestead Farmers Alliance to establish a computer lab for community members and $50,000 to Maui Phoenix Farms LLC to help develop a commercial trout hatchery.

One of the smallest grants, for $20,000, was awarded to the Lanai Academy of Performing Arts (LAPA) to pay for programs primarily serving students. The nonprofit said in its application that Lanai High and Elementary School no longer offers any music or drama programs for its roughly 550 students.

“Especially on the island of Lanai, there are few opportunities for students who wish to have access to performing arts,” the application said.

“LAPA is the only organization on island offering these services.”

All grant awards are listed in House Bill 1800, the state budget bill, which passed final House and Senate votes on Friday and now awaits action by Gov. Josh Green.

Release of grant award funds is subject to approval from the governor and the state Department of Budget and Finance.
Source: The Garden Island

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