COVID-19 and the Road to Recovery

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Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Trustee, Maui

The COVID-19 crisis is affecting Native Hawaiians by posing health challenges, economic harship and legal issues. While we know that our state has limited resources, medical supplies, and capacity for those infected with the virus, we also know that Native Hawaiians suffer from increased prevalence of heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory conditions that make our communities even more vulnerable to the pandemic.

Currently, our communities have concerns about economic relief for unemployment claims; lost revenues; business loan defaults that have impacted salaries and benefits of employees; lack of funding for personal supplies and food necessities; and housing relief through meaningful eviction moratoriums and renters’ protections.

The world has stopped feeling familiar; almost no one was ready for this threat. We do not know how to prepare and remain glued to our devices for any bit of guidance. None of us know what the “new normal” will look like; we only know that will we have survived loss of life and economic damage. While some of us are using this downtime to our benefit by cleaning our homes and reacquainting ourselves with our family members, there are a good number of us who are still figuring out how to pay rent, make car payments and buy food. How comfortable will we be at resuming our cultural traditions and engaging in the usual honi and hug?

Restoring the economy is not enough. This pandemic has shown us that our economy was fragile and needs to be more resilient to protect our families. Our state’s response and recovery plan to COVID-19 will potentially set the stage for transformative policy decisions in Hawai‘i that better reflect the values of the work we know is essential to sustain us. These solutions should begin to address the decades-long calls to create a more equitable, just Hawai‘i and to address the social ills that have resulted in the economic insecurity and trauma playing out in our communities.

Our leaders should diversify our economy, moving away from the military, tourism and luxury developments that cater to out-of-state residents, and reorient our policy discussions to in-state job growth that addresses the climate crisis (e.g., energy workers, environmental managers, design opportunities). We should look at rebuilding social foundations, such as our capacity to provide healthcare and education services, especially to those residents on our neighbor islands and in rural areas. Providing assistance for our small businesses and Native Hawaiian farmers that includes adequate labor protections assists our state by providing healthy food for our lower-income groups, while addressing our lofty goal of increasing food production by 2030. Improving these policies will have the trickle-down benefits of boosting earnings and economic growth.

Providing a living wage, universal basic income, paid sick days and family leave will assist our families in being able to survive in Hawai‘i and minimize having to make difficult decisions just to provide for our families. We need to advocate for protections for renters and develop innovative programs to address houselessness, especially for our most vulnerable groups such as veterans, domestic abuse survivors, at-risk youth, and the LGBTQIA+ community.

In order to enact these important policies, we need leaders who embody courage and decisiveness, and who are connected to their communities in today’s politically turbulent environment. Decisions should reflect the best interests of our people and our leaders shall embody decisions that do what is right.

We will remember these times well into the future, and it is our kuleana to remember to vote for strong leaders who will have the bravery to push for policies for the people that will build a stronger Hawai‘i.