East Hawaii News

DHHL: New Funding Will Allow Greater Homestead Development

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The head of the state Department of Hawaiian Homelands said a record appropriation for the agency in next year’s state budget will allow it to devote more funding to placing Hawaiian families onto homestead projects.

The Legislature recently appropriated $9.6 million from the state’s general fund for DHHL.

According to a statement from the agency issued Thursday night, it was the first operating funds it had received from the general fund since 2010.

Prior to that, DHHL had received up to $1 million per year with the highest amount, $3.5 million, appropriated during the administration of Gov. John Waihee who served from 1986 to 1994.

The appropriation comes in response to a May 2012 action by the Hawaii Supreme Court supporting a lower-court ruling in the lawsuit Nelson v. Hawaiian Homes Commission regarding what constituted “sufficient sums” for DHHL’s operating costs, the statement said.

Courts have not yet determined what constitutes sufficient funding.

The ruling had prompted the Hawaiian Homes Commission to request nearly $26 million in next year’s budget to “sufficiently” cover the department’s administrative and operating costs, the statement said. In his proposed executive budget released late last year, Gov. Neil Abercrombie had earmarked $14.7 million for DHHL.

Still, DHHL Director Jobie Masagatani said the funding for the fiscal year beginning July 1 will allow the use of trust fund and other revenues generated by department previously used for administrative costs to be funneled toward development of Hawaiian Homestead projects and programs.

Masagatani expressed appreciation toward efforts by Abercrombie and state lawmakers for engaging in the discussion of funding required to operate the DHHL.

“We look forward to continuing this important conversation and dialog in working with the Legislature in the coming years toward furthering our efforts to obtain ‘sufficient’ funds essential to revitalizing our programs, increasing development on homestead projects, and placing more native Hawaiian families onto Hawaiian home lands,” she said.

The DHHL is charged with administering 200,000 acres of public lands statewide designated for homestead leases.

As of June 30, 2011, there were more than 26,000 native Hawaiians on the waiting list for homestead leases. The department issued 177 new homesteads in the fiscal year ending on that date.

Also, a report issued last month by acting State Auditor Jan Yamane was critical of the agency’s handling of its portfolio of loans to lessees.

The failure to efficiently manage the loan program, including a lack of efforts to collect on delinquent loans, means the agency is “ignoring its broader responsibilities” and fiduciary duties, Yamane said.

In its response to the audit, the department said it would be looking to correct the “lax management” of lessee loans which it agreed “undermines its ability to serve all beneficiaries.”


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