While there is cautious optimism as the number of confirmed new COVID-19 cases level out in Hawaiʻi, we must continue to be makaʻala about adjusting responsibly to a “new normal” so that we do not cause a return of the virus spread in Hawaiʻi.
As we evaluate the various responses to this pandemic, an important issue which stands out is a lack of data specific to Native Hawaiians. The State of Hawaiʻi must prioritize the collection and reporting of Native Hawaiian-specific data relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The uniform collection and reporting of data specific to Native Hawaiians is critical to the proper administration of the State of Hawaiʻi’s trust responsibilities and improving the conditions of Native Hawaiians.
Disaggregated data is critical in helping to determine the effects of COVID-19 on the Native Hawaiian population and how the State of Hawaiʻi and OHA can most effectively direct limited resources to address these effects. Disaggregated data would allow for individuals to identify as Native Hawaiian/Part Hawaiian as a separate category from “Other Pacific Islander.”
OHA’s ask for uniform data collection is not new. OHA included this in its legislative package in 2012 as companion legislation in both the Senate and House of Representatives to facilitate the proper collection and reporting of demographic data by requiring data disaggregation consistent with federal standards and requiring publication of the data. This bill, although heard in Committee, was not passed into law. OHA has also historically provided comments to federal agencies supporting the need for disaggregated data at the federal level.
As we navigate these uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, state agencies including the Departments of Health, Labor and Industrial Relations and Human Services are in a unique position to collect, analyze and report racial and ethnic data on the impact of the pandemic on each communities’ health, economic conditions and wellbeing.
The dissemination of disaggregated data by race and ethnicity is vital for determining and addressing potential disparities of the impacts of COVID-19. We believe this data is critical for OHA and the state to effectively address the needs of our beneficiaries, who are especially vulnerable during these times.
OHA has made its request to Governor David Ige and welcomes the opportunity to work with his administration on this critical issue. OHA staff have been working with partner organizations, medical professionals, data analysts and community advocates to effect changes in the state’s procedures for data collection and reporting.
In other parts of its COVID-19 response, OHA’s Board of Trustees approved a $3 million emergency relief package to help individual beneficiaries as well as Native Hawaiian communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic crisis.
The Board added $2.17 million to OHA’s existing Emergency Financial Assistance Program grant, the Kahiau Community Assistance Program administered by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. The grant provides up to $1,500 in one-time emergency assistance to cover mortgage, rent, rent deposit or utility debts of Native Hawaiians facing financial hardship.
The Board also approved $830,000 to statewide programs to promote community-based food security for Native Hawaiian farmers, fishermen, ranchers, hunters and other individuals practicing subsistence living. The funds will be administered by the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation
OHA remains committed to aiding our lāhui. We are a resilient people who have persevered through tremendous adversity over the course of our history. We will make it through this by sticking together and eventually come out on the other side stronger than ever.