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Thursday, February 25, 2021
February 25, 2021 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 3:22 PM :: 2916 Views

Indian Affairs: OHA Chair calls for 'Parity' among all 'Native Americans'

Will OHA Make This Same Mistake Again?

HTA: January Vacation Rental Demand Down 74%

Auditor Releases Community Survey of Honolulu Residents

Hawaii Unemployment Tops in USA

DLIR to bill 40,000 Victims of COVID ID Theft in Hawaii?

KHON: … Some who say they got legitimate benefits are now being asked to pay large portions back, but identity thieves who may never be found likely made off with millions.

One sector the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) is paying close attention to is individuals who may have had unreported income during the pandemic.

“I think the numbers have been and still are enormous,” said Peter Yee, a volunteer moderator with the 26,000-member Hawaii Unemployment Updates & Support Group on Facebook. “It’s not to say that every case there is an actual overpayment, but it’s flagged anyway.”

Yee estimates there have been about 40,000 such over-payment cases since fall, 2020. Some of those folks say someone else must have made off with unemployment money in their name.

The DLIR stopped disclosing the mounting fraud tally after it hit at least $45 million in stolen PUA in fall, 2020, plus fraudulent payments on the unemployment side. They said, hundreds of millions in suspicious claims were blocked, however.

People in Hawaii are already getting 1099s telling them how much unemployment paid out in benefits. Many people who never filed a claim are getting these tax forms, however. They are victims of imposter fraud by identity thieves filing in Hawaii residents’ names in the state and across the U.S.

DLIR: STATE AWARDED $1.25M TO COMBAT UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE FRAUD & IDENTITY THEFT

read … Scammers likely made off with millions in fraudulent unemployment payments

Unemployed Protest—Demand HGEA Show up for Work at DLIR

SA: … About 200 people vented frustration and demanded help with Hawaii’s overwhelmed jobless benefits system Wednesday outside a closed unemployment office and the state Capitol.

The demonstration, largely organized by Hawaii Workers Center and the Unite Here Local 5 labor union, was an amplified display filled with rally cries, personal pleas, signs, flags and Waikiki hotel worker Mark Kamahele playing a snare drum.

“Hey hey! Ho ho! Open up the unemployment doors,” participants chanted to Kamahele’s rattling rhythm….

HNN: Unemployed workers, advocacy groups rally over unemployment system woes

Photo Gallery: Hawaii workers rally to have unemployment office open for in-person visits

read … Frustration over Hawaii’s jammed-up unemployment system prompts rally

Sacrifice? BoE Says Pay Hikes for Teachers are ‘Top Priority’

TGI: … The Hawai’i State Board of Education (BOE) has pre-approved allocations of federal funds before the COVID-19 federal relief package is approved by Congress.

The money, which will be allocated to the Department of Education and towards charter schools, is part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill which will likely pass next month, according to Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) President Corey Rosenlee….

According to Rosenlee (not a reliable source) the third stimulus bill contains $350 billion for state and local governments. In addition to school aid, $1 billion in relief funds will be given to the State of Hawai‘i.

Rosenlee added that the DOE is requesting $20 million for unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. Governor David Ige previously gave the DOE $14 million to meet those needs….

The BOE voted unanimously and approved the ESSER funds to be used to help pay DOE’s immediate expenses for the current year and for FY2022.

“The board authorizes the department to spend as much of the ESSER two funds as necessary to allocate the required amount to the charter schools to close the gaps in the current fiscal year in the differentials (pay hikes up to $10K/yr) and foodservice and to cover differentials,” BOE Chair Catherine Payne said.

Payne said DOE is further directed to return to the board for further discussion (of HSTA pay hikes) once the new federal funds are allocated and the state legislature has finalized the budget for the DOE’s FY2022….

read … BOE discussing budget ahead of Fed funding

1 in 3 Hawaii residents now on Medicaid after record-setting job losses

HNN: … The number of Hawaii residents on Medicaid, the government’s health insurance program for low-income adults and children, has soared by 24% amid the pandemic as the state saw record-setting job losses.

Ahead of the pandemic, there were 327,199 Hawaii residents on the state’s Medicaid program, Med-Quest. Last week, there were 405,598, a dramatic increase that demonstrates the impact COVID shutdowns and job losses had on workers and their families who lost health insurance, too.

Every county saw a jump in Medicaid recipients.

Honolulu had the most new applications. But percentage wise, Maui saw the biggest increase of 50%….

read … 1 in 3 Hawaii residents now on Medicaid after record-setting job losses

18% on Kauai Vaccinated

MN: … Lt. Gov. Josh Green estimated that there are about 10,000 to 12,000 undercounted doses in Maui County, which ranks last in the state in the percentage of the population vaccinated.

In Maui County, 9.1 percent of the total population has received at least one dose of the vaccine so far, according to state Department of Health data as of Wednesday. Kauai County had the highest percentage of residents vaccinated with 18 percent, followed by Honolulu County at 14.6 percent and Hawaii County at 12.7 percent.

Maui County is also near last in terms of residents who have completed both doses at 6.4 percent. Kauai County is first with 12.4 percent, while Honolulu County follows at 7.2 percent and Hawaii County is at 5.1 percent….

read … Green: Vaccine counts lagging

State says about half of Oahu, Maui inmates who qualify under 1B opted to get vaccinated

KHON: … Some of Hawaii’s inmates are getting vaccinated while essential workers and senior citizens outside of prisons are doing the same. The state tells KHON2 half of the inmates on Oahu and Maui who qualify at this time have decided to get vaccinated.

The Department of Public Safety told KHON2 in January, health care staff started vaccinating inmates on Oahu who currently qualify under Phase 1B….

HNN: Maui Criminal Families Tell COVID Stories

read … State says about half of Oahu, Maui inmates who qualify under 1B opted to get vaccinated

Stadium redevelopment plan’s legacy of deceit

ILind: … Two years ago, a bill to transfer control of the Aloha Stadium site to the Hawaii Community Development Authority, and to authorize spending $350 million of public money to fund planning and construction of a new stadium, was approved by legislators.

Several months later, the bill-HB1582 HD1 SD1 CD1–won an award from Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii.

Unfortunately, the award was the “Rusty Scalpel Award,” given by the two public interest groups annually to call public attention to the worst example of the legislature’s “gut and replace” sleight of hand that again left the public on the sidelines. “Gut and replace” refers to a maneuver where the contents of an existing bill are deleted, leaving only the bill’s title and number, and the contents then replaced with wholly different content, sometimes (as in this case) concerning a totally different subject.

At the time, veteran newsman and columnist, Dave Shapiro commented in his “Volcanic Ash” column.

With a new Aloha Stadium looming as Hawaii’s first major public works project after the rail fiasco, you’d hope the state would take special care that every move is above board.

But lawmakers couldn’t even get past the first step without major corner-cutting, shaking public confidence from the start.

Two key players were Senators Donavan Dela Cruz, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and Glenn Wakai, chair of the Committee On Energy, Economic Development, And Tourism.

Back in September 2020, a post here described how the two were bullying staff in several agencies demanding they support attempts to resurrect the trees-to-energy plant proposed on the Big Island by Hu Honua Energy (“Powerful state senators pressure agencies to back Hu Honua“). It seems likely similar hard-ball tactics have been used to push the stadium plan forward….

read … Stadium redevelopment plan’s legacy of deceit

Tax Hikes Coming: Public-private wastewater partnerships likely dead in Legislature

WHT: … Senate Bill 997, sponsored by state Sen. Lorraine Inouye, a North Hawaii Island Democrat, would allow county governments to enter into private-public partnerships to transfer to, or enter a joint venture with, a private company to handle one or more wastewater treatment facilities.

The Senate bill cleared two of its three assigned committees Friday. But its chances of being heard in its final committee, Judiciary, are slim after the Judiciary chairman voted against the measure in one of the earlier committees.

The House version, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Lowen, a Kona Democrat, and others, was deferred after being heard at the first of three assigned committees.

Inouye said public-private partnerships are increasingly being used in state and local governments on the mainland as a way to pay for expensive public works projects. If the Hawaii Legislature isn’t going to allow it, then counties will have to raise taxes to pay for the needed work, she said. Inouye said she’d try to get some grant money for the county next year to help, and she urged the counties to apply for federal money as well….

read … Union opposition keeps public works public: Public-private wastewater partnerships likely dead in Legislature

Agribusiness?  Reverting to DoA Would be Worse

SA Editorial: … Where the disagreement occurs is how to fix the problem. Ideas currently boil down to two bills before the state Legislature: one that seeks to dismantle the agency and move the task to the state Department of Agriculture, and one that proposes reforms aimed at cleaning up ADC’s mismanagement and making its work publicly transparent.

The first, a House measure, would shift all the ADC staff to the Agriculture Department, with the exception of its executive director, James Nakatani, whose spotty responsiveness to the Legislature and to the state auditor is the core of the controversy.

Members of the House Finance Committee will hear House Bill 1271, at noon today. The measure should be advanced to the House floor and cross over for the Senate to consider.

Its solution, to shut down the corporation, may not be ideal, because the whole reason for creating the ADC in 1994 was that the Agriculture Department staff was not succeeding at transitioning Hawaii to a more diversified industry.

Simply shifting it back may not move the needle any more quickly toward that ultimate goal. But the ADC needs to face this existential threat in order to make needed improvements.

The other approach, Senate Bill 335, would reform the ADC on several fronts. It would, for example, demand reports on leasing activities, that the overseeing board include more farmers, and that a higher premium be placed on issuing leases for cultivating food crops.

Lawmakers should advance this measure as well, with the eventual aim of crafting a strong path that exceeds SB 335 in a final bill ….

Related: Shutdown of Agriculture Development Corporation just a trick to Kill Seed Industry?

read … Get agribusiness back on track

DoA Ag Parks: ‘Politically Correct’ crowd wants to push out actual food producers to grab land-leases for themselves

CB: … For 45 years the state’s agriculture park program has offered farmers long-term leases on small plots of land. There are currently 10 agriculture parks with 227 total plots spread across the islands of Hawaii, Kauai, Molokai and Oahu. All the plots have access to irrigation and other infrastructure like fencing.

The program has allowed small, family farms to flourish, but some say the program is unfair to aspiring farmers because the application process is burdensome and the most effective way to get a plot is to take over an existing lease.

When plots are made available to the broader public, the lease goes to the highest bidder, boxing out small farmers with thinner profit margins.

The location of agriculture parks is also a challenge. Some parks are incredibly popular and demand far exceeds supply, while others have undesirable plots that sit empty for so many years that the DOA stops advertising their availability….

Bost said the closed bid system also favors large producers over the small farmers the program was designed for. This is increasingly relevant now because many of the original decades-long leases are reaching their end date. In the sought-after Waimanalo Agricultural Park, for instance, more than half of the leases expire this summer and will be put up for public bid.

In 2018 Hawaii Golden Farm LLC, a company growing sweet potatoes, ginger, basil and papayas for wholesale, was able to secure four plots totaling 34 acres (wow 34 whole acres!) at the Waianae Agriculture Park. On the Big Island, ranching operation Agee Inc. recently acquired four additional plots and now leases 48% of the acreage at the Hamakua Agricultural park. Two companies, a landscaping firm and company growing tropical plants for export, hold 20% of the plots at the Keahole Agriculture Park.

The most striking example, however, is the Kekaha Agriculture Park on Kauai where 18 of the 19 leases are held by Sunrise Capital LLC, a company raising Pacific white shrimp broodstock to sell to shrimp growers around the world…. (the horror!)

(Translation: “Politically Correct’ crowd wants to push out actual food producers to grab land-leases for themselves.)

CB: This Kauai Nonprofit Has A Plan For Creating More Demand For Local Food

read … Hawaii Farmers Need Land. State Efforts To Help Aren’t Working 

Aquarium trade reveals revised EIS for West Hawaii fishing

WHT: … Rene Umberger, executive director of For the Fishes, said “Absolutely not.” ….

read … Aquarium trade reveals revised EIS for West Hawaii fishing

Proposal Would Streamline Involuntary Treatment Of Those With Severe Mental Illness

CB: … Public defenders are obliged to fight involuntary treatment for their clients. Lawmakers are considering cutting them out of the process….

Hawaii residents with mental illnesses so severe and persistent that they don’t even realize they need help can be ordered by a judge to get outpatient treatment. 

But since Hawaii revamped the Assisted Community Treatment law in July 2019, only one person has gotten court-ordered assistance, according to the Institute for Human Services, a service provider that has filed petitions to get people treatment. 

Public defenders, the lawyers who represent mentally ill clients facing ACT petitions, are working to halt the proceedings every step of the way. 

“If I don’t receive consent, I have to object, litigate and fight for everything,” said Taryn Tomasa, a public defender who has represented several ACT clients. “And this is all for something that is really about the implementation of social services.”…

Since the Assisted Community Treatment law was reconfigured in 2019, IHS has identified over 70 potential candidates but had only two cases go to trial. The nonprofit provider succeeded in one, now being appealed by the public defender’s office, and lost the other, Mitchell said.

State lawmakers are now considering a change to the law that would cut public defenders out of the process. Through Senate Bill 199 and its companion, House Bill 345, the public defender would be replaced by a guardian ad litem, a court-appointed representative who advocates for the best interests of the client – even if it’s not what the clients say they want. …

The cases can take so long that clients deteriorate further while IHS pursues their case, Mitchell said. Some have lost brain function, suffered other medical problems or experienced additional trauma from life on the street, according to Mitchell.

“Some people died before we even got to file the court petition,” she said. “Some people ended up in the hospital. One person got run over. She got hit by a car.” 

Regarding the one court order IHS was able to obtain, the man had been homeless for “many many years” and has struggled with schizophrenia and meth addiction, Mitchell said. It took a year, she said. 

He’s still homeless, living in and out of IHS’s shelter. But he is medicated now and his finances are controlled by a representative so he can no longer spend money on meth, Mitchell said. …

read … Proposal Would Streamline Involuntary Treatment Of Those With Severe Mental Illness

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