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Where the money went: Council members disburse $900,000 in CARES funds

Hawaii County Council members focused on food and social and educational programs in divvying up $100,000 in coronavirus relief funds each of the nine members received last summer for projects in their communities.

That’s according to a report from the county Finance Department, provided in response to a public records request.

The nonprofit Hawaii Rise received the most of the dozen or so organizations benefiting from the council’s largess, which used part of the $80 million provided by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The Hilo-based nonprofit, serving as a conduit for Vibrant Hawaii, received donations from five council members, for a total of $172,100. Vibrant Hawaii, also based in Hilo, registered its articles of incorporation as a nonprofit Sept. 25, according to documents filed with the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Going Home Hawaii, a nonprofit that helps residents reintegrate into society after serving in correctional facilities, also received money from five council members, but it received a total of just $57,000.

Council members said they were especially interested in Vibrant Hawaii’s work at creating food hubs in communities in their districts.

“I directed CARES funds to Hawaii Rise Foundation to support the Vibrant Hawaii Resilience Hubs Initiative as I wanted to keep as many federal dollars circulating in our local economy as much as possible and amplify the positive impact of every dollar,” said Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who donated $63,000 of her allotment to the group. “One component of the initiative is to purchase meals prepared by area restaurants, which source ingredients from local food producers. The bonus is hot meals for keiki, kupuna, and ohana in need.”

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David split her $60,000 donation to Hawaii Rise between food hubs and learning and computer hubs in Naalehu and Cooper Center. She said because of the short timeframe to allocate the money, she was advised to pick nonprofits that had already been approved by the administration.

“I just really, really wanted to focus on the kids and especially on the food in the Volcano area,” she said Tuesday.

In addition to $18,500 for Hawaii Rise, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy allocated $50,500 for personal protective equipment for the Merrie Monarch festival. Although festival organizers have since announced the event won’t have a live audience next spring, Lee Loy thinks the PPE will still be needed.

“The world-renowned Merrie Monarch Festival is important for our community, for our culture and for our economy. What happens at Merrie Monarch 2021 could offer a glimpse into the future of many of our island’s signature events,” Lee Loy said. “Even without a live audience for the competition, the need to keep halau, judges and production crew members safe and healthy requires this kind of investment and should new medical advances emerge, PPE will remain relevant.”

The council gave itself permission to spend the money with a fast-tracked resolution Aug. 6, and had to provide its list to the administration by Sept. 30.

The council grants didn’t have to go out to bid, but they must follow federal procurement rules as well as the specific CARES rules. They must be used to pay necessary expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, addressing medical or public health needs, as well as expenditures incurred to respond to second-order effects of the emergency, such as by providing economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to coronavirus-related business closures.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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