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Joint Legislation Proposed Meant to Improve Lives of Working Class

January 15, 2020, 7:42 AM HST
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Hawai‘i’s legislative session begins at today at 10 a.m.

In a historic collaboration between the House, Senate with support of the governor, lawmakers are going into the session with a joint focus to remove economic obstacles and improve the lives of residents statewide.

On Jan. 14, a day before the session opened, a joint press conference was held at the State Capitol where leaders announced a  package of economic bills that would tackle pay inequality, affordable housing, childcare and education.

These issues were highlighted in the Aloha United Way sponsored report, “ALICE: A Study of Financial Hardship in Hawaii.” The ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report describes the economic hardships facing many working individuals and families in Hawaiʻi. According to the report, after allocating monies to pay for expenses such as housing, child care, food, taxes, health care and transportation, a family of four needs to earn roughly $77,000 a year simply to survive.

“What my colleagues and I are proposing today to address the high cost of living in Hawaiʻi will directly support individuals and families who are struggling the most to make ends meet,” said House Speaker Scott K. Saiki. “Every dollar counts when you are trying to stretch each paycheck just to meet basic needs. By increasing wages and tax benefits, investing in child care, and creating more affordable housing units, the Legislature, together with public and private partners, is working to end the cycle of poverty.”

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This is the first joint House and Senate legislative bill package since 2004 and it has the backing of the Governor.

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“In these divisive times, this collaborative package is the result of the hard work done over the interim months by House and Senate leaders, with input from stakeholders and administrative departments, that strikes an optimistic tone in addressing these issues,” said Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi. “We are aware that this is a good first step toward making a difference and hopefully, with continued cooperation from all parties, we will continue to invest in Hawaiʻi and in our youth.”

Ige said this comprehensive package of bills provides a blueprint for changes for generations to come, which will better the lives of Hawaiʻi’s people and make the islands a place that future generations will be able afford to call home.

“Many of our families are living paycheck to paycheck, and this proposed package of bills is designed to ease the burden on those struggling to stay afloat and provide a more stable future for the next generation,” Ige said.

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To address these concerns, the economic package includes:
• Targeting tax relief for working class families and individuals.
• Increasing the minimum wage.
• Developing leasehold housing for the working class.
• Providing tax exemptions for developers to build market priced homes.
• Providing infrastructure for developments at or near rail stations.
• Expanding childcare options for parents near their work places.
• Creating a new Schools Facilities Agency and allow DOE to focus on education.

“According to the ALICE report, large cost drivers, primarily taxes, housing, and childcare, coupled with relatively low income levels make cost of living a challenge for too many Hawaiʻi families,” said Rep. Sylvia Luke, Chair of the House Finance Committee. “Instead of trying to resolve these issues in silos, we, along with community members, came together and decided, ‘Let’s help our working people.’ That’s why what we have is not just about wages, and not just about affordability of housing, and not just about childcare needs. It’s about raising up that entire group of our population.”

“This joint House, Senate, Governor effort is a real integrated approach to help working families with increasing their take home pay amounts, providing pre-school for their children, and increasing housing supply” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Donovan M. Dela Cruz.

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