Sunday, October 13, 2013

Calculating the damage of the government shut down on Hawaii Island

When the US government shut down on October 1, 2013, news stories claimed that Hawaii would be one of the top states affected because of the number of federal employees, military bases, and federal contracts.  Oahu has been dramatically affected by the loss of income to so many residents, however, we are also seeing significant effects on here on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The biggest tourist site on the Big Island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which normally has about  4,500 visitors a day. The park’s closure means a loss of $1.8 million a week from visitors plus the loss of income to workers at the park, concession stands, the newly opened Volcano House within the park, and other businesses. Other important Hawaiian sites on the island under federal control are also closed including  the Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Park, Puʻukoholā Heiau, and Kaloko Honokōhau National Historical Park.

Since the beginning of October, statistics from the Hawaii Tourism Authority have shown a sharp drop in visitor arrivals from the mainland  as compared to last year. The first week of shutdown, we saw lots of tour buses with just a few visitors on board; this week we have not seen any buses at all. We are beginning to expect a long term downturn in tourism from the mainland if this current shutdown is not resolved soon.

In addition to the economic impact of national parks and historic sites being closed, income on the Big Island has been lost by furloughs of federal workers  and projects funded by federal organizations (USDA, USGS, Department of Interior, Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, NASA, etc). that are delayed and may ultimately be cancelled.  The telescopes on Mauna Kea have been affected by the shutdown.  The Submillimeter Array, partially funded by the Smithsonian, has furloughed workers and the Gemini telescope will lose 50% of its funding if the shutdown continues past October. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s “Very Long Baseline Array” already closed its telescope on Mauna Kea due to the shutdown.

Since the shutdown, Hawaii Island has had a 24% increase in unemployment claims. Recent college graduates are shut out of government jobs and from even starting the testing and application process.

Thousands of families on Hawaii Island depend on Food stamps (SNAP) to help to survive on their part-time, minimum-wage jobs in the tourist and resort upkeep industry.  Food stamps not only feed families, they also support independent farmers and ranchers that get income from food stamps at local Farmer’s markets.  SNAP is expected to run out of money on November 1st.  That could mean the loss of food stamps for many Hawaii Island residents at the same time there are less jobs in tourism.

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