Additional $60M Earmarked for Big Island Disaster Relief
VIDEO: Sen Russell Ruderman, March 29, 2019. From Sen. Ruderman’s Facbook page.
Knowing the tremendous need following the devastating Kīlauea eruption that destroyed homes, farms, and infrastructure last year, lawmakers moved quickly this session to provide financial support to Big Island residents by passing HB 1180 HD1.
During a press conference on March 29, 2019, Big Island lawmakers talked about the road to recovery for Hawaiʻi Island.
“The people of Puna and the Big Island are hurting and need our help,” said Rep. Joy A. San Buenaventura (Puna). “They are struggling just to secure their basic needs such as food, water, and a roof over their heads. We are hoping the county uses these funds wisely and will be able to leverage it with FEMA funds. My community has been hard hit and it is very difficult to rebuild.”
HB 1180 HD1 provides a total of $60 million in relief funding: $20 million in state grants and $40 million in state loans with expected payback from the federal government. The state has already provided $22 million in emergency funds for Big Island disaster relief, bringing the entire package to $82 million.
Hawaiʻi County Councilmember Herbert M. “Tim” Richards III said he came to the Capitol on March 29 to affirm to the Legislature that the County Council is unified and committed to using these funds for rebuilding both the infrastructure and the economy.
“It is not just the physical damage but also the economic damage that we’ve had on the whole Big Island that needs to be repaired,” Richards said. “Estimates are that we suffered a $500 million loss in tourism. We have to rebuild that. We are looking at roads, tourism marketing, and jobs. It will take time, but we are moving forward reasonably quickly.”
The Kīlauea eruption covered nearly 14 square miles in Puna; it destroyed 716 homes and made over three thousand parcels inaccessible, and destroyed a school, farms, cultural sites, roadways, water systems, recreational destinations, and a large portion of the electrical grid.
House Speaker Scott K. Saiki said moving this bill through as quickly as possible was a priority for the Legislature.
Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi agreed and said on opening day he promised that “we would not forget the Big Island this session.”
Senator Russell Ruderman (Puna, Ka‘ū) thanked President Kouchi for keeping that promise.
“Mahalo to my Senate and House colleagues who worked so hard on this bill,” Ruderman said. “It is a giant step toward providing much needed financial relief to the County of Hawaiʻi and residents of Puna, who have experienced extreme hardship over the past year in rebuilding their lives.”