The Census Impacts Funding for Native Hawaiian Services


The 2020 Census will be used for critical decision-making that could mean more schools, roads, hospitals, social services and clinics in communities that need it most. It also could mean more federal funding for programs and services that specifically help Native Hawaiians, such as healthcare, housing, jobs and small business programs, and financial assistance. Census data will be used to determine where billions of dollars of federal funding goes.

Nearly all the funding for Papa Ola Lōkahi comes from the federal government. Authorized by the 1988 Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act, Papa Ola Lōkahi’s mission is to improve the health of Native Hawaiians.

“Funding is determined through the numbers reported by the census, and not only by the federal government; local and state (governments) use them as well,” says Sheri Daniels, Papa Ola Lōkahi’s Executive Director. The outlook for that funding is unclear due to uncertainties about the ultimate impact of the pandemic, as well as the expectation that there will be more Native Hawaiians living on the continent than in Hawai‘i and what that means. It’s exceedingly important to participate so that the count is as accurate as possible.

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) administers several programs that receive partial funding from state and federal agencies, including Hawaiian Trades Academy, small business programming, and Kahiau, an OHA-funded emergency financial assistance program that’s being heavily utilized during the current pandemic.

“Public and private entities rely on census data to support the amount of funding allocated to certain geographic or ethnic communities, so when our communities don’t get counted, it makes it difficult to demonstrate the financial need for support,” says CNHA Program Manager Richard Medeiros.

“Census data is used to determine how state and federal funding is allocated,” adds Medeiros. “Since Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are historically undercounted, CNHA and our partner organizations have to work harder to advocate for the proper funding and/or develop our own programs and services to address the gaps in support left by state and federal agencies.”

The 2020 Census also affects Native Hawaiians living on Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) homesteads.

“A better count would not necessarily affect DHHL’s budget,” says Cedric Duarte, DHHL Information and Community Relations Officer. “However, a better count, especially on the homelands, would impact services for homestead families, including free or reduced meals, SNAP or WIC benefits, road improvements, hospitals and other services.”

Charitable services, grants and scholarships, such as those funneled through Hawai‘i Community Foundation (HCF), may be affected if funded by the government, but HCF itself does not receive federal funds directly based on census counts. Nonetheless, the census data is still critical for community planning.

“The census is crucial to shaping the future of Hawai‘i, as the data will determine how much federal funding state government and local communities will receive for the next decade,” notes Micah Kāne, HCF President and CEO. “Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans have been undercounted for decades, creating a disadvantage for families, communities and neighborhoods by having reduced access to needed resources,” Kāne says. “When every person in Hawai‘i is counted it helps to ensure that our host culture thrives—and all the people of Hawai‘i thrive with them.”