Help for Native Hawaiian Businesses Facing the COVID Storm

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Keli‘i Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

For the past year, the global COVID-19 pandemic has slowed most sectors of the world economy to a crawl.

In Hawaiʻi, countless businesses have reached out for external help, such as government assistance, simply to survive. However, recent survey data reveals that Native Hawaiian-owned businesses have largely weathered the storm of the last year on their own, without assistance from state or local government programs.

Citing U.S. Census data from 2012, a Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT) report shared that Native Hawaiians own 3,147 firms in Hawaiʻi, constituting 11.1% of all businesses in the state.

In June 2020, OHA collaborated with Kamehameha Schools, Liliʻuokalani Trust, the Hawaiʻi Leadership Forum, Kupu, and the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce to survey over 2,000 residents, businessowners and nonprofit executives about COVID-19’s impact on local businesses. Astonishingly, survey findings indicated that 46% of Native Hawaiian-owned businesses reported not requesting any financial assistance such as from the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans and other state or local government programs.

Yet, many Hawaiian-owned businesses reported a decline in customer/client demand (53%), depletion in cash reserves (49%), event cancellations (34%) and temporary closures (48%).

So what is the reason for the low utilization of financial assistance among Hawaiian business owners? Was it a lack of awareness, limited access to resource centers, or other barriers? Even the survey conductors are puzzled.

In any case, the economic impact of COVID-19 remains with us, so it is essential that Native Hawaiian-owned businesses utilize all available resources to survive and thrive at a new level.

For example, CNHA and several local financial institutions are currently accepting applications for loans under the popular and well-known Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), created by the CARES Act. The federal government and many banking institutions rose to the challenge presented by the pandemic by offering zero-fee loans of up to $10 million to cover payroll and other operating expenses for cash-strapped small businesses. Eligible borrowers can seek to have PPP loan funds forgiven if spent on eligible overhead and payroll costs.

Another tool available to small businesses is the Employee Retention tax credit (ERC) that was extended by the American Rescue Plan when it was signed into law on March 11, 2021. The refundable Employee Retention tax credit (ERC) is now extended to cover wages paid out through June 30, 2021. The ERC is available to employers whose business operations were fully or partially suspended due to government-imposed restrictions on commerce, travel or group meetings, or employers whose businesses experienced significant losses in revenue compared with pre-pandemic periods. Through the ERC, qualifying employers can claim any wages paid to employees in excess of amounts used for the PPP program.

Native Hawaiian business owners should also be aware of OHA’s Mālama Business and Hua Kanu Business Loan programs, providing “established small businesses access to credit and capital that allows them to grow.” (loans.oha.org/business/) And all business owners will want to familiarize themselves with the resources highlighted by the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov).

Now, more than ever, it is vital to raise awareness of assistance that may be available to small businesses. All of us who are fortunate enough to call Hawaiʻi home must walk together on the path to recovery, and that includes finding ways to support our local businesses. E Hana Kākou!


Trustee Akina welcomes your comments and feedback at TrusteeAkina@oha.org