In the final installment of a three-part conversation series, health equity advocates in Hawaii came together to share innovative strategies that support assisted living, limited income and employment (ALICE) communities. The panel highlighted key legislation and financial opportunity programs that could benefit a significant portion of Hawaiian households.
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A 2017 report from Aloha United Way (AUW) found that almost half of households in Hawaii (around 212,000) were classified as ALICE or less (in poverty), which means they are struggling to provide basic needs such as shelter, food and health care. That percentage could reach 59% as a result of the pandemic, said John Fink, CEO of AUW.
Hawai’i has the highest Cost of life in the nation. Gavin Thorton, executive director of Hawai’i Appleseed, estimated that a family of four would need an annual income of $ 90,828 to meet basic needs. Some of the biggest financial burdens on these families include housing, child care and disproportionate taxes, Thornton said.
Thornton explained that a “severely imbalanced” economic system pushes ALICE households even further below financial stability. For example, Thornton described the paradox families face in the housing market:
“Annual rent [in Hawaiʻi] increased by $ 1,000. If you have a high salary, that’s okay – you earn $ 25,000 more than you were [in the 1980s]. But if you’re a low- or middle-income earner, your income increases haven’t nearly kept pace.
Deborah Zysmen, Executive Director of the Hawai’i Children’s Action Network (HCAN), highlighted the full extent of the impact of inequality on households.
“We are now talking about 60% of the population. Again, we often have programs and services for our very low income families, but that is not what we are talking about here. We’re talking about most of us, our background [wage] employees. “
Based on their research, Hawai’i Appleseed and HCAN outlined the targeted reform areas that they believe will have the greatest impact, including progressive taxation, increased cash flow, affordable housing and child care. and early childhood education.
One way to increase cash flow for ALICE communities is to reform payday loans invoice which will take effect in January 2022.
Before the reform, people in Hawaii looking for loans to pay rent and other necessities were paying 460% interest rates, with just two weeks to pay them back, according to Gabriel Kravitz, Head of Consumer Finance at Pew Charitable Trusts. The reform bill clarified licensing requirements for lenders, extended repayment periods and introduced interest price caps, which reduced loan prices to a fraction of their original cost. Kravitz said:
“These are significant savings that consumers will see and families will be able to return to their budget [and] reintegrate into the local community.
Other cost-effective solutions include investing in financial opportunity programs for ALICE individuals. Jeff Gilbreath, executive director of Hawai’i Community Assets (HCA), shared the organization’s plans to incorporate a career ladder identifier and financial forecaster (CLIFF) in Hawaiʻi, in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
The tool will help people who are progressing financially (for example, someone becomes a certified nursing assistant and earns a higher salary) to better understand and prepare for when their eligibility for certain public benefits, such as BREAK, expire.
See below a provisional timetable for increasing financial autonomy:
Gilbreath encouraged participants – including policymakers, healthcare workers and the nonprofit sector – to continue advocating for ALICE communities:
“As COVID has made the economic pain that families experience more and more prevalent … there are things you can do as an employer or as nonprofits that have people at the door. .
Pay community members to participate in community engagement activities. Maybe there is an opportunity for paid time off so people can advocate with the legislature… I think we can continue to implement progressive economic policies that will help ALICE and lower households, and really, everything. Hawaii.