Helping ʻOhana Progress Toward Economic Stability

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OHA’s 15-year Mana i Mauli Ola Strategic Plan calls for strengthening the capability of ʻohana to meet their living needs, including housing, and cultivating economic development in and for Hawaiian communities.

It’s not easy to get by or make ends meet in Hawaiʻi. For many families, just putting food on the table each day is a continuous struggle, and with the cost of housing, living paycheck to paycheck is a reality for far too many of our families and communities.

Consider that, according to a 2020 Aloha United Way study on financial hardship, some 42% of Hawaiʻi’s 455,138 households struggle to make ends meet. While 9% of those struggling households live below the federal poverty level, another 33% are categorized as ALICE households – assets limited, income constrained, and employed.

Comparatively, among Native Hawaiian households in Hawaiʻi, 53% – more than half – struggle to make ends meet, either as ALICE households or as households living below the federal poverty level.

The federal poverty level (FPL), or the “poverty line,” is an economic measure used to decide whether the income level of an individual or family qualifies them for certain federal benefits and programs. The FPL is the amount of annualized income earned by a household, below which they would be eligible to receive certain welfare benefits.

For a single adult in Hawaiʻi, the FPL was $13,960 per year in 2018, while the four-person family average was $28,870.

ALICE households earn above the federal poverty line but do not earn enough to afford basic household necessities.

To help address this situation, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has responded to community input and included economic stability as one of the four strategic directions of its new 15-year Mana i Mauli Ola Strategic Plan. The others are educational pathways, health outcomes, and quality housing. These four directions will be used to guide OHA’s work to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

Photo: Sylvia Hussey
Dr. Sylvia Hussey – Photos: Courtesy

“Economic stability is about being able to provide for your family – and then sustain those conditions. The strategy is to support families and communities in all of the avenues and options in place and to be developed, for a family to sustain itself,” said OHA CEO/Ka Pouhana Dr. Sylvia Hussey.

“We want to encourage a mindset of provident living – self-reliance, emergency preparedness, long-term planning, prudent resourcing and practices (e.g., don’t spend more than you have, recycle, reuse, repurpose), credit management, creating savings accounts and the like.”

The economic stability direction includes an emphasis on strengthening families’ ability to meet living needs, as well as cultivating economic development in and for Native Hawaiian communities by increasing the number of Native Hawaiian-owned businesses, establishing new markets for Native Hawaiian products, and establishing and operationalizing an Indigenous economic system consistent with Hawaiian cultural values.

According to U.S. Census data, Native Hawaiian-owned businesses constitute 11% (13,147) of all businesses in Hawaiʻi while Native Hawaiians constitute 21% of the state population.

“There are business opportunities in Hawaiian communities – for Hawaiian communities and by Hawaiian communities. Hawaiians are very prominent in the creative economy, in the film industry, and fashion, for example. OHA offers the Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund and Consumer Micro Loan Program that provides capital and access, but more innovatively is to think about how those economic opportunities manifest in our communities,” Hussey said.

“Can families sustain themselves? Or do they have to get a day job and then come on the weekend to farm or fish or practice other things? Sometimes we think that’s just the way it is, but often, that’s not the way they want it. So those are the kinds of opportunities we want to uplift and highlight to make sure that everyone can make those choices.”

Kamoa Quitevis is the chief executive officer of ʻĀinacology, an OHA community partner. He is a major advocate of developing and utilizing a network of Hawaiian-focused businesses.

Photo: Kamoa Quiteviss
Kamoa Quiteviss

“One of our components within ʻĀinacology is our foodservice business arm which is Kamoa’s Kitchen Meaʻai and Moʻolelo. The fundamental aspect of Kamoa’s Kitchen is connecting with local farmers and other local businesses so we build the capacity within our community with like-minded business owners and community organizations so there is a collective movement forward that ties together families, communities, and our environment. We partner with all kinds of community organizations. It’s the only thing that makes our work viable on a large scale,” Quitevis said.

Those partnerships include entities like Kaʻala Farms, MAʻO Farms, Hoa ʻĀina o Mākaha, Hoʻoulu ʻĀina and even Waiʻanae High School where students grow limu manauea (ogo) in a program that supports education and home base economics on the Waiʻanae Coast.

“We’ve done some excellent projects over the past years with OHA. One of our strong early partners was KUA. They’re a Native Hawaiian organization that works with communities to manage fishponds and estuaries and set fishing strategies and management policies,” Quitevas said.

“They build capacity in those places, it’s the Native Hawaiian concept of kūkulu kumahana, or pooling of strengths. It was a term used to gather the masses to get a certain task or goal accomplished.

“We need to continuously look to our ancestors and their wisdom so we can move toward that reciprocal connection we have between people, our environment, and our culture. So the idea of bringing all these groups and organizations and businesses together is fundamentally that – it’s kūkulu kumuhana. And when we utilize that in the right way, we’ll be able to do anything.”

Mana i Mauli Ola Economic Stability Focus

Engaging in strategies to enhance the economic development and financial empowerment of the lāhui will ensure that Native Hawaiians progress toward a state of economic stability.

Strategic Outcome: Strengthened Capability for ʻOhana to Meet Living Needs, including Housing; Strengthened Effective Implementation of the HHCA

Strategy 7: Advance policies, programs, and practices that strengthen ʻohana abilities to pursue multiple pathways toward economic stability.

Strategic Outcomes:

  • 7.1. Increased number/percent of Native Hawaiian ʻohana who are able to provide high-quality keiki and kūpuna care;
  • 7.2. Increase access to capital and credit for community strengthening Native Hawaiian businesses and individuals;
  • 7.3. Increase number of Native Hawaiian ʻohana who are resource stable (financial, subsistence, other); and
  • 7.4. Increased Native Hawaiian employment rate.

Strategy 8: Cultivate economic development in and for Hawaiian communities.

Strategic Outcomes:

  • 8.1. Increased number of successful, community strengthening Native Hawaiian-owned businesses;
  • 8.2. Establishment of new markets for Native Hawaiian products (eg. kalo, loko iʻa grown fish, etc.) that can provide Native Hawaiian producers a livable wage; and
  • 8.3. Established and operationalized Indigenous economic system consistent with Native Hawaiian knowledge, culture, values, and practices.