Column: Invest in families to help them stay here

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It’s tough to make ends meet in Hawaii. Prices are high. Paychecks don’t go far enough. We see our family members and friends move to the mainland because housing is cheaper and your dollar can stretch further. It’s heart-breaking because we know how much they want to raise their children here.

This past election, there were many promises made to the voters to deliver financial relief to families statewide. Now it is time for our lawmakers to show up for us and our loved ones. There are two very clear solutions.

We can ensure lower- and middle- income families keep more of their hard-earned money so that they can afford to pay rent and buy food. House Bill 1049 is a comprehensive tax relief proposal that should not be watered down or cut back. It includes an increase in the earned income tax credit to give Hawaii families a larger tax refund. It also would give most families up to $10,000 a year to pay for child care, after-school care, or adult day care. We need this robust relief.

Next, we want to see paid family leave for everyone. Hawaii is losing workers to the 13 states and Washington, D.C., that now offer workers paid family leave to take care of a new baby or a sick family member. Paid family leave (Senate Bill 360) gives us peace of mind when we need to take time off to care for ourselves or our loved ones. We know that we will still have income while we care for a new child or help a loved one who is ill or ease their passing. Caregiving is our sacred role. Yet, our society does not value this fundamental responsibility. We can change that.

Hawaii lawmakers should ensure that we’ll be supported and not have to quit a job or drain our bank accounts when life happens. And although pandemic emergency declarations are ending, new variants of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses are still circulating. We need our lawmakers to pass paid family leave in Hawaii now.

Investing in families pays huge dividends. When parents have the support they need, they are more likely to stay in the workforce — boosting productivity and economic growth. Providing financial assistance to families also helps to stimulate small businesses, as families are able to spend more money on goods and services in their local communities. Longer-term positive impacts on families include higher high school graduation rates and increased college enrollment as well as higher earnings as adults among kids who grew up in families that received the financial assistance.

Our lawmakers need to live their commitment to parents, our keiki and our kupuna by passing comprehensive financial relief and paid family leave in Hawaii.

Deborah Zysman is executive director of Hawai‘i Children’s Action Network.