Covid-19 and the 48% living on the edge

Crazy, dangerous times we live in. The fear, tension, and panic of the coronavirus pandemic have clearly taken over all aspects of our daily lives. The entire planet is enveloped in the same hysteria and threatened by the same pathogen which does not discriminate due to nationality, race, color, religion, gender or sexual preference. Arguably it does discriminate by age and by income. Older people die in greater numbers and people who can afford to travel are the primary transmitters.

The public policy response to the health and economic calamity now engulfing us must put those people who are most vulnerable on both counts, first.

In past economic calamities, the government has stepped up to bail out banks, real estate investors, automobile manufacturers, and other big businesses.

While all of us will take a financial hit in the coming months, our government must first and foremost reach out now to help those in our community who already live on the very edge.

According to the Aloha United Way’s “ALICE Report” – 48 percent of Hawai’i families with children already have incomes below what it takes to afford basic household expenses that includes housing, child care, food, transportation and health care. These individuals include child care providers, retail salespersons, waitstaff, cashiers, administrative assistants, janitors, housekeepers, landscapers, teaching assistants, mechanics, restaurant cooks and more. More than one-third—37 percent—of senior households in Hawai‘i fall into this category.

Think about it. 48% of our friends, family and neighbors were already struggling mightily just to survive before the coronavirus storm struck our shores.

These are the folks we need to think about and help, first. Many have already either lost their jobs or have had their hours cut back. These are our friends who live without sick pay, without that 14 days of supplies in the cupboard and with less than $900 savings in the bank.

Extended and enhanced unemployment and SNAP benefits are obvious frontline public policy steps that are needed. A freeze on rent increases, rental evictions, and foreclosures caused by loss of employment due to the pandemic also are needed.

Thankfully our state government has already announced they are waiving the normal one week waiting period for unemployment benefits. Those that have been laid off should go online immediately and file their claim

Both the U.S. Congress and the President are moving forward proposals intended to provide direct financial support to individuals as well. According to the New York Times, “In a briefing on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration is talking to Congress about sending cash payments to Americans over the next two weeks to cushion the economic blow from coronavirus.”

In Australia “up to 6.5 million people on government benefits, including pensioners, the unemployed and those on family welfare payments will get up to $750 each in cash payments in an attempt to drive consumers back to the shops.”

In Italy, mortgage payments will be suspended as part of measures to soften the economic blow of coronavirus on households.

Small businesses like regular people will need similar help – tax waivers, deferrals, and reduced penalties are a good place to start. Low-interest loans and employee subsidies are also needed. As a small business owner myself that suffered the wrath of Hurricane Iniki, it was this type of support that kept us afloat. The state waived the penalties and interest for late payment of taxes and allowed a payment plan. Eventually, the taxes were paid in full and our business went on to be profitable and healthy. Without that help and flexibility from the state, we would otherwise have gone bankrupt.

Big businesses and large employers also will be at the door of government asking for help. If they are willing to forgo large executive salaries, commit to keeping workers employed and pledge to repay that support from their future profits – support for their operations via government loans and subsidies also must be considered.

Though it is often hard to see at the time, with every disaster comes opportunity.

Now, more than ever we need to invest in local food production.

Now too is the time to invest locally in creating “green jobs”, protecting and enhancing our watersheds, trail enhancement, invasive species removal and more. Supporting local entrepreneurs involved in recycling and other innovative “green” technologies also must be front and center.

The current emphasis on reducing travel also reinforces the urgency of implementing “remote testimony” capability at the state legislature. Everyone needs to be able to participate in government regardless of where they live, without the cost and health risks involved with airline travel.

Government must step up early and aggressively to provide the stability and core support needed in this time of uncertainty and fear.

But of course, the government cannot do it all. The private sector, businesses large and small, local entrepreneurs and each of us as individuals must also step up and take care of, nurture and look out for our own families, our own businesses and our own communities and neighborhoods.

Together we will get through this.

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another past life, I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator, and Majority Leader, and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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14 Responses to Covid-19 and the 48% living on the edge

  1. rexann dubiel says:

    Thanks, Gary. Aloha, Rex

    Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device

    • garyhooser says:

      Mahalo Rex. We are all in this together. As we move forward, All sectors will have their hands out looking for help. We have to continue to be diligent and make sure regular working people get the support they need. And we need to use this as best we can as an opportunity to shape the future economy.

  2. Jenni Hart says:

    Aloha Gary, It’s my understanding that the Federal administration covid19 team announced all testing will be provided free, no insurance required. Also a program is being put in place to help families that need to stay home from work, and SNAP benefits will be enhanced. Listening to Gov. Ige’s press conference today, I did not hear him say Hawaii is coordinating with the Federal efforts. Perhaps there is no love lost between Hawaii politicians and the Trump administration, but now’s sure the time to set that aside. Can you help?

  3. Jan Bernard says:

    Thank you so much for your clear head and strong leadership abilities. Please keep speaking up, yours is the voice of reason. Blessings to you. Stay healthy! Jan

    • garyhooser says:

      Mahalo. Yes, I face the same questions as everyone else. Stay at home or go out and fight the good fight. My response I think for now anyway…is to stay home and fight that same fight. gh

  4. Michael deYcaza says:

    I just read Vietnam is providing free meals delivered to people in self quarantine. Good idea!

  5. Veronica Slaughter says:

    What’s happening around the world is a big price to pay to bring people together to fight this virus. This virus is the enemy, not one another. Be kind, try and live in love not fear. Each of us can contribute, no matter how small, to the healing of people and the planet. We are all Ohana. We are in this together. Mahalo

  6. Hi, Gary. I worry about the elderly and people in self quarantine. Is there any mechanism on Kauai for (free) food delivery? And prescription refills? Thank you for your newsletter updates and blogs.

  7. garyhooser says:

    Hey neighbor. I share your concern. There are meals on wheels programs, and there is an organization called “KEO” Kauai Economic Opportunity…who is contracted to manage a lot of the “human services” work on Kauai. I also know of some private individuals around the state who are trying to offer this help as volunteers in their neighborhoods. I will check further.

  8. Debi says:

    I like the idea of suspending mortgage payments… I ***must*** work to cover my $100/day mortgage payment on my basic 3/2 house.

  9. R Joao says:

    Thank you for bringing up these critical points about those citizens who were living on the edge economically/financially before the virus hit. But the economic impact is so globally pervasive, macro and micro that there are no winners and wont be until the virus is arrested and the economy rebounds. Thereafter there will still be the aftermath to face. How to get economies stabilized, helping people survive financially. People, retirees, who have their financial futures (IRA’s) tied up in mutual funds, may end up with nothing depending on th e economic/financial health of those companies. What then? Obviously Social security and Medicare maybe the most tangible life rafts for old people Republican or Democrat. Hopefully Congress and Executive branch will realize how critical those two programs are to Americans. Or will we continue to create more homeless which is a burden on the nation anyway. God bless us all.

  10. lizking808 says:

    I agree with your suggestion that we need to take care of the vulnerable in our community. However, you are compounding the problem of mass hysteria by misrepresenting a key fact. 48% of families with children live at or below the poverty line. That is not 48% of us. Too, you equate poverty with susceptibility to COVID-19. Poverty is NOT one of the underlying health issues that make a person more susceptible to the disease. Certainly, poverty does make a person more susceptible to economic hardship, which should not be ignored. Please do your part to help us get through this with as little trauma as possible. Do not make things worse by spreading false news and conflating issues.

    • garyhooser says:

      Thank you for the comment and I agree misrepresenting key facts is not helpful. But the ALICE Report and the facts are clear:

      *At least 46 percent of households in each of Hawai‘i’s six primary racial/ethnic groups have income below the ALICE Survival Budget.
      *More than one-third—37 percent—of senior households in Hawai‘i qualify as ALICE.
      *48 percent of Hawai’i families with children have income below the ALICE Survival Budget.

      The entire report is here:

      Read the health section: It is clear that poor people are underinsured or uninsured when it comes to health care. Those in poverty have poorer health in general than those who are affluent. Poor people have less access to health care and less access to a healthy lifestyle in general. They are more likely to live and work in situations where “social distancing” is impossible – Living in multigenerational or crowded housing conditions (or on the street), utilizing public transportation and working jobs that expose them to the public without sick leave etc.

      It is incorrect to imply that poor people are somehow not at greater risk both in terms of their health and in economic terms.

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