Gov. Josh Green marks first year in office
In an address on Tuesday marking his first year in office, Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green touted a litany of actions taken by his administration, including dealing with the devastation suffered in the deadly Maui wildfires.
The governor’s speech covered a variety of issues, from the Red Hill water contamination crisis and teacher shortage impacting public education for keiki to the shortage of healthcare workers and ongoing gun violence.
But he opened by tackling perhaps the biggest problem of the state: the ongoing problems of affordability, housing and homelessness.
“In the 2023 legislative session, we introduced and passed phase one of the Green
Affordability Plan, which in this first year alone provided $104 million in direct income tax
relief to Hawaii’s ALICE [asset limited, income constrained, employed] families,” Green said.
“In the next phase of our plan, we will provide more tax relief, including the child and
dependent tax credit totaling $250 million annually over time — so that working families
can afford to live in Hawai‘i and our next generation can have a future here.”
The State of Hawai‘i bears the highest cost of living in the United States, the second-highest rate of homelessness per capita and an affordable housing shortage of 50,000 units.
The governor in January signed the first Emergency Proclamation on Homelessness to cut through red tape, allowing for construction of up to 12 kauhale villages statewide in the coming years. The first medical respite kauhale, Pūlama Ola, was opened in May.
“Pulama Ola is literally in my backyard – located between the State Capitol, Queen’s Medical Center, the Department of Health and Washington Place – and we several new kauhale to open in the coming months,” Green said.
The governor also used his emergency powers this year to form a committee of the state’s leading housing experts, empowering them to approve new housing projects more quickly to address the housing crisis.
The governor concluded his address with praise for the spirit of the Hawai‘i community.
“The past 12 months – and especially the last four – have been full of difficult challenges, devastating loss and unimaginable heartbreak for us in Hawai‘i,” he said.
“What I saw in my first year as governor inspired me. Even in our most difficult and trying times, I saw our communities rally in support of each other, rather than turning on each other – again and again reaching out and asking, ‘What can we do it help?’ and ‘How can we give to those who are suffering?'”
The full text of the governor’s address is posted below:
Video of the governor is posted HERE.
Today marks the end of my first year in office as governor — and first, I want to thank everyone who is working hard to make Hawaiʻi a better place for our children to grow up in, and for future generations.
Next I want to provide you with an update on the challenges we’ve faced, and the progress we’ve made together as a state over last twelve months.
When our administration took office a year ago, we pledged to serve the people of Hawaiʻi and provide trusted, effective leadership.
Since then, we’ve made it our mission to bring people together to take on our biggest challenges, and take action on the issues that matter most to families across our state.
We said that our actions would be rooted in our shared values — ohana and aloha, investment in our keiki and respect for our kupuna, supporting working families and fighting for justice, equality, and inclusion for everyone.
And I resolved to explain clearly and directly to the people of Hawaii the reasons for my decisions, and why I believed those decisions would benefit our state — and that is what I have worked to do every day over the past year.
AFFORDABILITY, HOUSING, AND HOMELESSNESS
From the very beginning, we took action to reduce the high cost of living in our state and make Hawaiʻi more affordable for working families.
In the 2023 legislative session, we introduced and passed phase one of the Green Affordability Plan, which in this first year alone provided $104 million in direct income tax relief to Hawaiʻi’s ALICE families.
In the next phase of our plan, we will provide more tax relief, including the child and dependent tax credit totaling $250 million annually over time — so that working families can afford to live in Hawaiʻi and our next generation can have a future here.
A year ago, we faced the second-highest per capita homelessness rate in the country, with over 8,000 unhoused across the state, including over 300 keiki — many struggling with mental illness and addiction, and facing an average life expectancy of just 53 years.
We took immediate action to reduce homelessness with real solutions — and have made it our goal to reduce homelessness in our state by 50% within four years.
In January of this year, I signed an Emergency Proclamation on Homelessness, which cut through the red tape which was preventing much needed action, allowing us to begin the construction of up to 12 kauhale villages statewide in the coming years.
In May, we opened the Medical Respite Kauhale Pulama Ola in partnership with Project Vision, to care for homeless patients recently discharged from the hospital.
Pulama Ola is literally in my back yard — located between the State Capitol, Queen’s Medical Center, the Department of Health, and Washington Place — and we expect several new kauhale to open in the coming months. Now let’s talk about housing.
After years of relative inaction, Hawaiʻi is suffering an extreme shortage of affordable housing, at more than 50,000 units short of our needs and a crisis of local families leaving the mainland because they simply can’t afford housing here.
So upon taking office, I instructed my team to take bold action to build housing so we could stop the bleeding.
But the process to build homes has become so complicated and costly, fraught with unnecessary bureaucracy, impossible permitting processes, and prohibitive zoning rules, that there was no hope of solving the problem without serious reform.
Using emergency powers available to the governor, we formed a committee of the state’s leading housing experts — empowering them to approve new housing projects more quickly to address this crisis.
We immediately approved 10,800 units of new affordable housing for working families in our state — and now have turned our attention to approve projects in urban Honolulu and along the growing rail.
This continues to be one of our biggest challenges, but we’ve taken action and we are committed to building more affordable housing in the coming years so local people don’t have to leave Hawaiʻi and essential workers like nurses, teachers, and firefighters can afford to live here.
EDUCATION, EQUALITY, AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS
My administration is committed to public education, investing in our schools, and hiring and retaining qualified teachers in our state, and we demonstrated that commitment with the successful negotiation of a new four-year contract with the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association — and the 13,500 teachers it represents — in April of this year.
This new contract provides substantial pay increases for newly hired teachers and higher salaries and bonuses for experienced educators — and was ratified with the overwhelming support of 92% of HSTA members, representing a victory for teachers, students, and public schools across our state.
With this move to support public education, we quickly saw needed teaching positions being filled and vacancies drop.
From the beginning, we made a commitment to stand up for equality and defend the rights of women in Hawaiʻi, and by signing SB1, we protected women’s right to choice by ensuring access to the reproductive healthcare services they have depended on for decades.
We also showed our commitment to gender equality by appointing several female judges to our courts, achieving full gender parity.
TOURISM, GRANTS, AND SPENDING PRIORITIES
In May of this year, after more than a year of conflict and confusion, we finalized separate contracts for tourism marketing and management, bringing a working peace between the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and the Hawaiʻi Visitors and Convention Bureau — and moving Hawaiʻi forward with a commitment to sustainable tourism.
These contracts, totaling over $65 million, emphasized the importance of campaigns educating visitors to respect Hawaiʻi and maintain awareness of local cultural practices.
In March of this year, I released $50 million in stalled grants-in-aid to nonprofit organizations doing so much important work in our state.
This funding supported nearly 180 nonprofit organizations serving vulnerable populations, aiding in their efforts to navigate a new, challenging post-COVID environment.
Then I turned my attention to the budget — and I made 22 reductions in funding through line item vetoes, saving over $1 billion dollars for the State across fiscal years 2024 and 2025.
These surgical cuts allowed us to better address critical issues such as homelessness, housing shortages, and healthcare provider shortages. We also took action to help small businesses survive, preserve and create jobs, and grow our economy.
Our diplomatic mission to Japan last month helped to strengthen ties and promote closer cultural and economic relations between Pacific neighbors, exploring the possibility of making travel from Japan to Hawaiʻi even easier.
We are deeply grateful to the people of Japan for their $2 million humanitarian donation to the people of West Maui to aid in their recovery.
Protecting the health and safety of our people and preserving our precious environmental resources have been top priorities in our first year — and we have already made important progress on draining the fuel from Red Hill so it can finally be shut down for good.
The military began removing the fuel on Oct. 16, more than five months ahead of schedule — and as of last week, they have already drained 103 million gallons from the tanks, which is 99.5% of the total.
The goal of the Red Hill Joint Task Force is to remove the last 0.5% of the fuel in the first half of next year.
Then we will close the facility permanently, so that it never again poses a threat to our health or the safety of our water.
Gun violence has been a growing problem in Hawaiʻi and across out country, and the tragic shooting of 17-year old Richianna DeGuzman moved us to take greater action.
We hosted the state’s first meaningful gun buyback in decades on Oct. 21 and it was an unprecedented success.
In just a few hours, the Departments of Law Enforcement and Public Safety were able to get almost 500 firearms off our streets in exchange for Foodland gift cards, with no questions asked and no ID required.
We collected ghost guns, sawed off shotguns, many semi-automatic weapons, and even an uzi — and I have asked the directors of these departments to continue holding gun buyback events on a regular basis to get more guns off our streets.
This initiative, along with our commitment to creating safe places from guns, and signing of key firearms-related legislation on National Gun Violence Awareness Day, will help make our communities safer and protect our keiki from deadly violence.
For years, Hawaiʻi has struggled with a severe shortage of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals — so in September, we announced a groundbreaking loan repayment program to address this crisis.
Developed by JABSOM, the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, the State Department of Health, and my team, and funded by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature, the Healthcare Education Loan Repayment Program, HELP, will provide an unprecedented $30 million in educational loan debt repayment to health professionals licensed or otherwise certified to provide care to patients in Hawaiʻi.
A diverse list of healthcare professions will qualify for loan repayments of up to $50,000 per year — in exchange for two years of full-time or half-time service in Hawaiʻi, providing care for at least 30% vulnerable patients.
We’ve already received over 1,000 applications for this program, which will prioritize healthcare professionals with deep ties to our state — and we are placing extra emphasis on selecting mental health and addiction treatment professionals to address heightened concerns that have arisen from the COVID era and the current crisis on Maui.
This initiative will help ensure that rural and under-served communities across our state have access to the healthcare providers that they need — and within 5 years, Hawaiʻi will be the only state in the nation without a shortage of doctors or nurses, and we will finally be able to bring an end to healthcare disparities that many of our communities have suffered for too long.
We further strengthened our healthcare system by investing $128 million in needed improvements to rural and neighbor island hospitals on Big Island, Maui, and Kauaʻi — and over $14 million in Hawaiʻi’s nursing facilities and our Family Assessment Centers to expand access to care across our state.
We also dedicated $73 million per year in state and federal funds to raising Medicaid rates, improving care for the 450,000 Hawaiʻi residents currently on Medicaid.
On Aug. 8, devastating fires swept through West Maui and destroyed Lahaina — taking the lives of 100 of our loved ones, injuring many more, and leaving thousands homeless.
The American Red Cross, the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency, and FEMA relocated thousands of displaced families to dozens of hotels and hundreds of short term rentals on Maui — housing over 8,000 displaced people in more than 2,400 units across some 40 properties in just 14 days.
FEMA registered over 17,000 survivors for services and will provide them with more than 18 months of rental assistance.
To date we have disbursed over $120 million in housing assistance to those affected by the disaster, and they will receive another $130 million in state and federal aid.
We provided meals, casework services, financial recovery resources, and other disaster relief assistance to those affected — and we will provide housing, medical care, mental health services, and other needed support to displaced families for as long as is necessary.
FEMA continues to assist us with direct leases and rental assistance grants to ensure that people stay housed well into 2025, and these costs will be covered by federal assistance, state resources, and humanitarian aid.
If these housing options are not adequate for the people of West Maui, we will authorize the construction of hundreds of transitional units in the region to make sure we have enough housing for our needs.
I worked with President Biden and his administration directly to ensure that federal funds will pay for 100% of debris removal and emergency protective measures in the disaster areas, for 6 and 12 months respectively.
Generosity in the form of tens of millions of dollars has poured into Hawaiʻi from around the world, through the American Red Cross, the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, the Maui United Way, and other organizations.
I authorized an additional $100 million dollars from a special Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund, or TANF, to match what others donate, effectively doubling the power of their contributions to help affected families pay for housing, transportation, food, clothing, and other needs.
We provided relief to local businesses in the form of emergency grants distributed by the Maui Economic Opportunity team, aimed at preventing bankruptcies.
Working with State and House leaders, this partnership for Maui county is now made possible and they will see up to $20,000 each in grants to help local businesses survive and recover.
Recently we brought community and business leaders together to create the Maui Recovery Fund, which will rapidly provide funds to Maui families who have lost loved ones or who have suffered serious injuries in the fires.
Participation in the fund will be completely voluntary, with the goal of getting as much money as possible to affected families as quickly as possible — cutting out delays and eliminating uncertainty.
We have already secured substantial commitments to the fund from our initial partners, including the state, Maui county, Kamehameha Schools, and Hawaiian Electric, and have begun to finalize the details of how to best make these funds available to people who have lost so much.
The past twelve months — and especially the last four — have been full of difficult challenges, devastating loss, and unimaginable heartbreak for us in Hawaiʻi.
But it also been a time when we have seen the best in each other on full display — the aloha, sacrifice, and unwavering support we have for every member of our ʻohana.
This year we have shown the rest of the country and the entire world our true character and our values.
What I saw in my first year as governor inspired me.
Even in our most difficult and trying times, I saw our communities rally in support of each another, rather than turning on each other — again and again reaching out and asking, “What can we do to help?” and “How can we give to those who are suffering?”
I want to express my deepest gratitude to the people of Hawaiʻi for your resilience, your heart, and your commitment to each other.
We have been through so much and we have accomplished so much this year. And I am confident that in the coming years, if we continue to live up to our values and put them into action the way we did this year, there is no challenge we can’t overcome, and no goal we can’t accomplish together.
Mahalo and aloha.