Even before COVID-19, nonprofits, legislators, and community members agreed that too many families in Hawai’i were holding their breath, just one disaster away from financial ruin. In January, the state was in a sound financial place, and advocates and legislators had big dreams for its future. There was agreement between the Governor’s Office and legislative leadership to increase spending in early learning. Working with other advocates and the legislative Keiki Caucus, Hawai’i Children’s Action Network began the session with some 30 Children’s Policy Agenda bills.
The COVID-19 crisis struck Hawai’i just before the session’s halfway mark, and the legislature recessed in response. The Children’s Policy Agenda and the entire 2020 legislative session were put on hold. Legislators reconvened in May and again in June with a new budget shortfall to fill and $635 million of federal CARES Act relief funds to spend. During the session, legislators passed the state budget bill and put some of the federal CARES Act funds into the state rainy day fund. Later, they approved a plan to spend the federal CARES Act money to help residents and businesses. Some $15 million was allocated toward assistance for child care. Of the Children’s Policy Agenda bills, three (SB2486, HB2543, HB1346) passed.