Saturday, October 13, 2001

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OHA considers creating
a jobs program

By Pat Omandam

An Office of Hawaiian Affairs committee got its first review of a proposed multimillion-dollar temporary jobs plan to help a few of the more than 11,000 Hawaii residents who became unemployed in the economic fallout of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Meanwhile, trustees also heard some good news yesterday about OHA's sluggish Native Hawaiian trust fund, which increased $11 million to $301 million yesterday from $290 million on Sept. 30.

OHA Chairman Clayton Hee said the idea for his emergency recovery employment program came from Kauai resident Robin Danner, a Hawaiian homesteader raised on Indian reservations in Arizona and Alaska. Danner helped start a similar program for Alaskan natives, and wanted to know if OHA would be interested, he said. Under the plan, OHA would enter into an agreement with the state Department of Labor & Industrial Relations, which would administer about 150-200 jobs funded by OHA.

These jobs would pay $12 per hour and would include fringe benefits such as health insurance. Employment would last no more than six months. Those hired would work in administrative, maintenance and clerical positions for 35 nonprofit agencies serving native Hawaiians.

Any Hawaii resident with knowledge or experience working with native Hawaiian communities who became unemployed or a dislocated worker as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks would be eligible for the program. Hee cautioned trustees that limiting hires to unemployed Hawaiians and native Hawaiians could be challenged in court.

The OHA Budget Committee will vote on the proposal Thursday. Hee hopes a program can be in place by Dec. 1.

"What this is intended to do is provide a bridge for people for six months with the idea in mind that in six months the economy will begin to pick up," Hee said.

If approved by the board, the emergency jobs plan will cost OHA $2.48 million, or about $12,390 per worker, less than the $5 million Hee had originally proposed.

The problem for trustees, however, will be to find the money through savings in OHA's current operating budget because of a spending cap that limits the amount of available trust funds.

Already, a few trustees have concerns. Trustee Haunani Apoliona said she wants a more detailed plan that includes written commitments from those involved and addresses constitutional questions about the plan's use of trust funds, which are supposed to be used for the betterment of native Hawaiians. "It appears to be fast-tracking without a detailed plan," she said.

Trustees Oz Stender and Colette Machado, in letters to Hee this week, complained the plan amounts to grandstanding and it will not solve long-standing problems facing Hawaiians. Hee has said he intends to run for lieutenant governor next year.

"I am baffled that you would utilize your office as chairman to lobby the public support in what appears to be a politically charged campaign strategy," Machado wrote, adding more due diligence on the plan was needed before it went public.

Hee, however, emphasized he supports this program for economic, not political, reasons, a sentiment echoed by fellow trustee Charles Ota.

Meanwhile, OHA investment consultant Peter Backus, senior vice president of investments at Salomon Smith Barney, told trustees its investment portfolio is significantly down about 16 percent over the current fiscal quarter.

But Backus said the stock market has been following a fairly typical pattern following a crisis event, and he expects OHA's native trust to rebound next year.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

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