Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Elaine Kitkowski and Lisa Mulu, above, were among volunteers
packing food yesterday at the St. James Food Pantry in Palolo.

Time of need

Terrorism and fear. Layoffs and
cutbacks. Haves and have-nots. This
holiday season, people are struggling
to make ends meet.

Prospects dim for people
who lose welfare

Agencies find they have more mouths to
feed as donations continue to drop

By B.J. Reyes

More than 500 Hawaii families scheduled to lose financial welfare benefits next weekend face an even greater challenge in finding work as the state's economy continues to falter, one economist says.

"The prospects are pretty grim," said Lawrence Boyd, a labor economist with the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Hawaii's West Oahu campus. "The unemployment rate has risen to 5.4 percent and I expect it to rise higher, so there are not a lot of jobs for these people."

Art As of Nov. 3, there were 539 households scheduled to lose their cash benefits on Dec. 1. Welfare reform laws enacted in 1996 cap the amount of financial assistance at five years.

The 539 figure is down from 738 in October, 818 in August and 1,021 in May. Despite the gains, it is unlikely that all families will find the work they need to get off welfare over the next 10 days, one state official said.

"I'm hoping it's going to go to zero in the next two weeks, but (come Dec. 1) I think we will have approximately 200 families that will have used up their five years," said Susan Chandler, director of the state Department of Human Services. "They won't be eligible next time they're in need. That's a real problem."

Quantifying how well Hawaii has trimmed welfare rolls compared to other states is difficult because not all states have the same standards, said administrator Kris Foster of the Department of Human Services.

"Who they're time-limiting and who they're not is very different because each state was allowed to set up its own program," she said.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests that Hawaii officials have at least done a better job of tracking welfare cases than other states, Boyd said.

"We know exact numbers," he said. "(The department) has kept people informed. I don't think other states have tracked people to the degree that has happened here."

Since reforms were adopted, the Department of Human Services has worked with families to assist them in finding work to become financially independent. The agency also has mailed regular notices to households informing them of pending termination.

"I didn't want people to come to us on Dec. 1 and say, 'Gee, I didn't know this was happening,'" Chandler said. "The only families we will really be losing are those that haven't participated in any of the welfare programs in five years ... and haven't gained any of the skills they need to become self-sufficient."

Chandler stressed that only financial assistance benefits are time-limited. Families enrolled in food stamp, child-care or medical programs will continue to receive benefits.

On average, a family of one adult and two children receives $483 a month in federal assistance. An estimated 100,000 households in Hawaii receive some sort of financial assistance.

Compounding matters for welfare recipients trying to find work has been the economic slowdown caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Now, as people in Hawaii and throughout the country begin losing their financial assistance, the next few months will provide a "tragic opportunity" to examine the effectiveness of welfare reform, Boyd said.

Critics of welfare reform have always questioned whether it would work "if the economy had a recession or a bad patch and you have extended periods of unemployment," Boyd said. "This will be a real test of welfare reform because now it faces a recession."

Agencies find they have more
mouths to feed as donations
continue to drop

By Mary Adamski

Charitable agencies that provide Thanksgiving meals for the poor in Hawaii are being hit doubly hard by the post-Sept. 11 economic crunch, with thousands more hungry mouths to feed but fewer donations to pay for the food.

The Salvation Army, sponsor of the largest and best-known free banquet tomorrow at Blaisdell Center, has more food under preparation than last year, enough for 3,000 people, said spokesman Daniel de Castro.

Ted Nakagawa, left, pastor for Hope Chapel Olomana, accepted food
yesterday from Naomi Iha, center, and Venus Ah Quin, volunteers
for the River of Life Mission. Nakagawa was collecting food to give
to needy families tomorrow for Thanksgiving.

The meal, for which tickets are distributed by social services organizations, is limited by the size of the exhibition hall, he said. About 2,500 were served last year.

The Salvation Army has seen "double the number of families" seeking nonperishable food at its Oahu locations in the past two months, de Castro said. Unlike the bounty tomorrow provided by donations from 150 companies, "our food bank is not going as nicely as we want. As soon as we get food, it goes out the door."

"During the holiday season, many families will be reaching a crisis stage and will be needing our help," he said. "We are about to feel a double whammy. Besides the worst prediction of 30,000 people being furloughed from jobs, by December we will have the first group being dropped off the welfare rolls."

Meanwhile, one of the largest food pantry operations in Honolulu saw a significant dip in donations this fall and whittled back on its traditional Thanksgiving distribution this week. Yet the demand is up, said Patricia Kaslausky, coordinator of the Palolo Outreach center sponsored by St. Patrick Church.

Maui insurance workers donate turkeys to needy

WAILUKU >> Employees and executives in the insurance industry on Maui have donated 400 vouchers for turkeys to the Maui Food Bank.

The association made the donations to assist those families affected by a slumping economy caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

"We wanted to help as many families as we could to have a happy Thanksgiving," said Michael Victorino, who led the effort to raise about $3,000.

Maui County gave $183,869 in aid to about 479 households in early November, part of a voucher program to help residents who have been laid off or had their income cut as a result of a downturn in tourism.

Maui County is providing up to $1.5 million in vouchers under a program approved by the County Council and begun by Mayor James "Kimo" Apana.

Star-Bulletin staff

"Before Sept. 11 we would serve 300 to 400 a month, but in October we gave out boxes to feed 700 people. Last Thanksgiving we gave food for families totaling 1,600 people," she said.

Volunteers at the Palolo Avenue center continued distributing canned goods today, including a do-it-yourself Thanksgiving dinner, with rice, fruit, vegetables and Foodland certificates that could be used for a turkey or other perishables.

In previous years, the Palolo pantry handed out $15 certificates, but they cut back to $5 ones this year. The operation, supported by East Honolulu churches and schools, lost support this year from Hawaiian Electric Co.

Tons of food donated by HECO employees, in one of the biggest annual corporate food drives in town, went this year to Angel Network, Institute for Human Services and Helping Hands Hawaii.

The employee drive has developed "a momentum to continue" over the years, said HECO spokesman Fred Kobashikawa. "Organizers saw a slowdown this year, because there were other drives following Sept. 11. Cash donations were down ... people had given to Red Cross and others. But the spirit is still there."

The Ko Olina Community Association got a clear reading on Hawaii's heightened need last weekend. About 3,000 Leeward residents were served turkey and ham dinners Saturday at 18 locations from Waianae to Pearl City in the annual Thanksgiving Outreach Project. Spokeswoman Natasha Clarin said about 2,000 were fed last year.

Students from the Waipahu High School culinary skills classes helped chefs from the Marriott Ihilani Resort and Niblick Restaurant in preparing the meals, and the United Parcel Service provided trucks and drivers for hot meals delivery.

Ted Nakagawa, pastor for Hope Chapel Olomana, received
food yesterday from Les Jury, food distribution coordinator
at the River of Life Mission, watched by Bob Marchant, the
mission's executive director. Thanksgiving food was being
collected for the needy.

"We asked churches if they would supply the places to serve the food, and they reached out to find the needy," Clarin said.

River of Life Mission in Chinatown will feed about 600 people in seatings at 10 a.m. and noon, and volunteers will deliver an additional 140 hot meals to senior centers, said executive director Bob Marchant. The turkeys this year were cooked in a Waimanalo church's imu.

"We have seen an increase of 30 percent in daily meal service over the last two months," Marchant said. He expects the number of daily breakfast, lunch and dinner meals to reach 10,000 for November, about 2,000 more than the prior monthly average.

The people who call Ala Moana Park home will have a noontime turkey dinner tomorrow thanks to volunteers from Beyond Four Walls and Central Union Church.

"We anticipate 500 people -- up from 350 last year -- because of what has happened in the economy," said Roger DeAsis, coordinator of Beyond Four Walls, which stages a Christian prayer service and a meal for homeless people in the park on Monday and Friday evenings. "We have seen the crowd grow from about 40 to 150 people since summer."

Navy personnel and their families will host their annual feast for North Shore residents at the Waialua Community Center from 10 a.m. to noon tomorrow.

"Last year we fed 400, but we expect more people as a result of unemployment," said Lt. Damien Oliver of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Pacific, Whitmore.

Oliver said that instead of also handing out individual bags of food as in the past, the Navy families are contributing to the North Shore Christian Fellowship outreach program.

Even though times are tough, isle residents are still answering the call to help.

"Hawaii feeds people really well on Thanksgiving," said Lynn Maunakea, director of the Institute for Human Services. "We get a lot of volunteers; they are tripping over each other."

People staying at the IHS men's and women's shelters were told they could bring guests "so an extended family could be together." Maunakea expects from 350 to 500 people. They will be treated royally, seated and served unlike the usual cafeteria-style line.

Hilton Hawaiian Village provides the meal, tablecloths and centerpieces and entertainment from the hotel's Tapa Bar.

"For the staff, working on the holiday is not a problem," said Maunakea. "It's so much fun."

"This time of year we have more volunteers than we need," noted River of Life's Marchant. "We need people to be aware that the need is there all year round."

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