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Watching Those Federal Dollars Slip Through Our Fingers

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

It is one thing to hustle new and additional spending at any level of government without good reason but it is just plain stupid to let moneys already appropriated slip through our hands, especially if they are federal dollars.
Yet that is just what the state is allowing to happen because it refuses to undertake some simple actions that would qualify Hawaii for a federal program that could provid funding for programs and projects needed so badly in Hawaii.
Let’s start at the top. A couple of weeks ago, one of the largest operators of the federal Head Start program discovered that some of the classrooms they use at public schools could contain dangerous lead-based paint. The Head Start provider would need to have each classroom inspected to the tune of $300 to $500 per classroom before it could get a license to operate the child care program in those classrooms. Not only is the cost of the inspection prohibitive for the Head Start operator, but if the inspection finds high levels of lead, it is estimated that the corrective procedures could run as high as $15,000 for each classroom.
So the Head Start provider is now engaged in trading back and forth as to who is responsible for the inspections and the remedial work that may be necessary. An interesting twist to this is that the state department of human services which licenses child care providers has its own set of rules and the state department of education (DOE) has its own set of rules. So what may work for the DOE insofar as use of its facilities does not necessarily apply under the state department of human services’ rules. Even more ironic is that the administrator of the rules for the DOE admitted that he did not know how the DOE’s standards compare to the department of human services’ standards.
But the real kicker here is the fact that neither the Head Start provider nor the DOE might have to worry about paying for the cost of correcting lead-based paint problems if the state was qualified for a federal program that addresses this very issue. A HUD (Housing and Urban Development) sponsored program is primarily aimed at correcting lead-based paint problems in housing; however, the more important goal of the HUD program is to maximize the number of children protected from lead poisoning. While the program focuses on housing, there is no doubt some leeway in interpreting Head Start classrooms as eligible for the program as the program “houses” children.
In the latest funding for this program, which has been around for a number of years, there was a total of $59 million available. The grants could range anywhere from $1 to $3 million. Hey, this sounds like the right medicine for what ails the Head Start program as well as a number of other buildings which may suffer from lead-base paint hazards.
But guess what? Hawaii does not qualify to even apply for the grant because the state does not have a Lead Based Paint Contractor Certification and Accreditation Program that is authorized by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The establishment of this certification program is a responsibility of the state department of health which has known for years that Hawaii could not apply for the federal grants because it didn’t have the required program.
So literally millions of federal dollars which could help Hawaii owners of housing units to remediate this problem have slipped through our state’s fingers. If in fact Hawaii has a lead-based paint problem, then what is being done to insure that the correction of the problem meets the federal standards? If there is no certification program, then how do owners of housing where there has been a problem know that a problem has been satisfactorily corrected?
So not only has Hawaii missed out on these federal dollars appropriated for this specific purpose, but it appears that there is no way to be certain that lead-based paint problems are truly corrected.
Just add this situation to the number of other programs where the state department of health has dropped the ball. This is the department that has constantly attempted to find new ways to raise money by imposing new fees and charges. If department officials would pay attention to what they should be doing, they might find that there is money to be had.

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