Is Hawaii’s welfare as high as study claims?

Hawaii’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, but according a report by a public policy research organization, Hawaii’s welfare wage is more than four times that amount.

The study, conducted by the Cato Institute, claims that in 2013, a mother with two children in Hawaii received an average of $60,590, or $29.13 an hour. But is that number accurate and is it fair to taxpayers?

One legislator said there are a number of reasons that figure is as big as it is. First, the cost of housing. Those welfare recipients who can find housing may receive Section 8 subsidies, which would bring the bill up. Then, there is the cost of living in Hawaii.

“Even though we may be ranked high in terms of the benefit amount, not only are all the benefits available to people that could qualify, but the cost or the ability to pay for everything is so much less, even with that kind of benefit,” said state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D-Palama, Liliha).

Many KHON2 spoke with in downtown Honolulu were surprised by the figure.

“I’m all for social services and assistance, but I think that’s overboard,” said Honolulu resident Mavis Ruest.

“There are a lot of moms living like that who are not in a situation where they’re living that well,” said Kailua resident Bob Mumper.

Chun Oakland says a minimum wage bill moving through the legislature may get more people off welfare. “By increasing the minimum wage, then people that are earning that minimum wage, at least they’ll have a better chance possibly of being able to afford the rent,” she said.

But state Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai) disagrees. “Not only do you pay for that minimum wage increase, you pay for social security increases, and Medicare increases and workers compensation and TDI (temporary disability insurance) and unemployment compensation. It’s that whole package and business can’t afford to do that.

“We have to be circumspect in looking at that, but yes, there is room and nobody would begrudge government from helping those who cannot help themselves,” Slom said.

The cost of living is roughly 40 percent higher in Hawaii than anywhere else in America.

Welfare payments are handled by the state Dept. of Human Services, but repeated calls to find out more about how that money is handed out went unanswered.

To read the full study, click here.

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