Highlights of Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 from Friday, April 3, 2020
In meeting with the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 earlier today, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Linda Chu Takayama reported that the State was granted Title 21 status, which provides federal funding for activation of the National Guard for COVID-19 mitigation, including support screening at airports. The status was granted for only 30 days, but the State hopes to gain an extension like other U.S. states have been given.
While the state’s mayors have written the White House about stopping all non-essential travel to Hawai‘i, Governor David Ige is reviewing the possibility that such travel would have unintended consequences. Chu Takayama said that, after analysis, the Governor will issue an opinion. President Trump has stated that he would consider a request to stop travel only if the Governor would agree to the policy.
After some comment from Special Committee members, Chu Takayama said she would speak with the Governor about requesting the military cancel upcoming RIMPAC meetings scheduled for June and July.
In other highlights, Department of Agriculture Chair Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser reported that, regarding federal emergency assistance for food needs, her department identified USDA programs that can provide emergency food assistance for commodities (in the amount of $1.5 million), the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program ($662,000) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ($2.1 million), all through USDA programs.
An additional assistance of $9.1 million is available for providers of specialty crops and for other producers that supply our food distribution system, such as livestock producers.
The USDA will be providing details through its website at www.usda.gov/coronavirus.
Concerning the state’s critical food and security infrastructure, the DOA has identified that food transportation and cold storage facilities are current weaknesses. The department is reaching out to organizations that may have excess cold storage capacity at this time.
Shimabukuro-Geiser also reported that the Hawaii Farm Bureau should get credit for implementing a drive-thru concept for farmers markets. She said that when the markets closed, farmers had already harvested and packed their products, ready for sale. The DOA worked with the Department of Public Safety to purchase some of the products, including frozen ulu and off-grade avocados. While farmers didn’t get the full price, they did get some revenue at an agreed price with state institutions.
The DOA is also working to open additional farmers markets while addressing social distancing concerns. The Hawaii Farm Bureau is also looking at drive-thru markets outside urban Honolulu.
Turning to the Department of Education, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said that the Board of Education approved a waiver of high school graduation requirements. The DOE will be releasing details about the requirements and guidance for students and parents today, April 6.
The department is also reviewing options to provide appropriate and safe graduation ceremonies for graduating seniors. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to allow traditional graduation ceremonies to occur.
Kishimoto also reported that the DOE and the Hawaii State Teachers Association have signed a letter of agreement outlining their partnership to provide distance learning for Hawai‘i students. Distance learning will likely be required beyond April 30, and the DOE is working on models and plans to continue its efficiency. The department has been in contact with other states regarding their own distance learning programs, and is also providing information to students and parents about additional distance learning resources and programs beyond what the DOE is providing to all students.
Students or parents who have questions or concerns are urged to call their school’s main number or the DOE main number. These phone numbers are being monitored, and voicemails will be returned.