Big Island Coronavirus Updates

First Farmer Relief Checks Mailed Wednesday

April 22, 2020, 2:53 PM HST
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Money is on the way to Hawai‘i to help farmers struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Hawai`i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) mailed out the first batch of checks under the COVID-19 Emergency Farmer Relief Program Wednesday. HDOA received 333 applications for the grants and was able to award 106 proposals that ranged from $2,000 for individual farmers and ranchers and up to $10,000 for non-profit organizations, commodity groups and agricultural associations that have experienced financial damage due to the COVID-19 emergency.

The total funding for the program was $250,000, which was drawn from the State’s barrel tax fund (Agriculture Development and Food Security Special Fund) and made available through Gov. David Ige’s March 4 emergency proclamation. The Ulupono Foundation contributed an additional $20,000 to specifically assist local pork producers with feed costs, as they no longer can rely on food scraps from closed restaurants. The limited funds could only fund fewer than one-third of all the requests.

HDOA awarded 86 individual farmers and ranchers $2,000 each for a total of $172,000. Thirteen non-profit agricultural organizations were awarded a total of $76,000 (ranging from $4,000 to $10,000). Relief funds may be used to help utilize an oversupply of agricultural products resulting from the decreased demand due to closures of restaurants, schools and other businesses.

“The department was able to fast-track the review and fiscal processing in order to get the funds to farmers, ranchers and agricultural operations as soon as possible,” said Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, chairperson of the Hawai`i Board of Agriculture. “It was critical that we get these checks to them quickly to help ease some of their urgent financial burdens and keep them in business until they can adjust to the changing marketplace or until more assistance programs become established.”

Applications received by the March 27 deadline totaled more than $1.2 million dollars. Applications were reviewed by a panel and priority was given to proposals that demonstrated significant financial damage caused specifically by or exacerbated by the COVID-19 situation that poses a serious threat of permanently shutting down the applicant’s agricultural operations. Applicants were also required to submit W-9 taxpayer forms.

Grants were awarded statewide:

County # of grants
Hawai`i Island 26
O`ahu 54
Kauai 10
Maui County 16 (3 Lanai, 4 Molokai, 9 Maui)

To provide further financial assistance to agricultural producers, HDOA’s Agricultural Loan Division is also administering the Emergency Agricultural Loan Program, which provides low-interest emergency loans.

Eligible farmers may apply for emergency loans of up to $150,000 at 3% interest. Loans of $100,000 or less will not require credit denials from other financial institutions, which would normally be required for agricultural loans. The board also waived the three-year residency requirements normally required for agricultural loans.

Since the program was approved by the Hawai`i Board of Agriculture last week, 96 loan applications have been received statewide.

Besides emergency loans, HDOA also offers microloans for those needing loans of $25,000 or less. Microloans involve less paperwork and offer swifter processing.

Farmers interested in applying for emergency or microloans should contact their nearest HDOA office:

  • Hilo – (808) 933-9977
  • Kona – (808) 323-7591
  • Oahu, Kauai, Maui – (808) 973-9460

In addition, several farmers with existing agricultural loans are working with HDOA’s loan officers to work out payment relief plans.

For more information on agricultural loans, go to the division’s webpage.

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