Gov. Ige Signs Important Bills Supporting Küpuna Programs

Kevin Kawamoto
Special to The Hawai’i Herald

By the time the Hawai‘i state Legislature adjourned last month, several important bills that benefit kūpuna — or older adults in Hawai‘i — were passed and sent to Gov. David Ige for his signature. These bills, along with others that did not make it, were part of a package of pro-kūpuna bills that a group of legislators — the Kupuna Caucus — collectively supported and helped steer through the legislative process in the state House and Senate.

The Kupuna Caucus holds regular meetings at the State Capitol to bring diverse people together to talk about public policies relating to older adults. The United States Census Bureau estimates that 17.8 percent of Hawai‘i’s population is over the age of 65. That’s more than 250,000 people.

Many of these older adults are aging in place and living active lives, but there are others who need different levels of assistance from family, neighbors and friends. The state Legislature estimates that 154,000 people in Hawai‘i are serving as unpaid family caregivers. As the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) continues to age, these numbers are expected to increase in the years ahead. This has wide-ranging implications for caregiving, aging in place, long-term care, healthy aging, and community-based services and supports.

Government, businesses, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, advocacy groups and others have a shared interest in learning about the current issues affecting older adults now and in the future so they can effectively plan and implement programs that enhance elders’ well-being and quality of life.

Kupuna Caucus members invite interested members of the public to help identify and shape their legislative priorities. But as the saying goes, “You can’t always get what you want,” and nowhere is this more evident than in politics. Of all the ideas brought to the table, legislators must decide which ones to formalize into bills or resolutions and then how to prioritize them. Not all of the bills endorsed by the Kupuna Caucus make it to the governor’s desk.

In a briefing on May 3, a day after the Legislature adjourned, Rep. Gregg Takayama (District 34, Pearl City, Waimalu and Pacific Palisades) had a positive assessment of the Legislature’s accomplishment this year on behalf of Hawai‘i’s kūpuna.

“I think this was the year of the kūpuna,” Takayama said, “because if you add up the measures that did pass . . . as far as financial resources, this is more than we’ve ever gotten as far as I know.”

Also present at the briefing was Sen. Sharon Moriwaki (District 12, Waikïkï, Ala Moana, Kaka‘ako, McCully and Mö‘ili‘ili) and Rep. Joy San Buenaventura (District 4, Puna), chair of the House Committee on Human Services and Homelessness. Moriwaki, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, agreed that legislative support for pro-kūpuna legislation was strong this year. Although a first-time state senator, Moriwaki has an extensive background in government, academic and community leadership. She brings to the Legislature expertise in both gerontology and public policy. She and Takayama were co-conveners of the Kupuna Caucus.

Here are some of the kūpuna programs that will benefit from the bills that passed.

Kupuna Caregivers Program

One bill that was closely watched by kūpuna advocates in the community was SB 1025, which related to the Kupuna Caregivers Program. The program was established in July 2017 “to provide working caregivers with additional resources to cover a variety of support services such as adult day care, assisted transportation, homemaker services and many more important services to qualified kūpuna.”

The program was intended to allow caregivers to continue working (and, thereby, prepare for their own retirement) while their loved ones receive support from providers in the community. However, limited funding affected the number of families who could be assisted through the program.

A message on the City and County of Honolulu’s Elderly Affairs Division website provides some insight into the urgent need for increased funding for the program. In bold print under the “Kupuna Caregivers Program” headline is this statement: “The program is currently at capacity. If you have been assessed and deemed eligible, you are now on a wait list.”

The message explains that under the pilot program, it was estimated that only 38 caregivers could be served for a six-month period. Demand for support exceeded available resources. As a result, the program put a hold on referrals. Even with additional funding, the program was still at capacity.

The Kupuna Caregivers bill that passed this year increased funds from $1.2 million to $1.5 million for the program and will allow families to apply for up to $210 a week for allowable caregiver services. Takayama noted that this was a compromise, as the original proposal was for a $350 per week maximum. There was some discussion in the House to limit the allotment to $70 per week, so the final amount of $210 was a “fair compromise,” he said.

Buenaventura emphasized that it was important that the funds were available to more people and that they were fairly distributed. The bill requires the Executive Office on Aging to file an annual report to the Legislature that includes a section describing specific outcomes of the program. The EOA is also expected to come up with a plan “to maximize the number of caregivers served by the program.”

Healthy Aging Partnership Program

Another positive outcome was funding for the Healthy Aging Partnership Program, which was established in 2003, but received no funding last year. This year it received $550,000. The program is designed to empower residents to make healthy decisions and engage in healthier lifestyles through community classes in health promotion, disease prevention and exercise.

“[The program] is so important,” said Takayama, “because when seniors participate in healthy nutrition, healthy eating [and] healthy exercise classes, it could prevent them from having to receive kupuna care services.”

Kupuna Care Program

The Kupuna Care Program — which is different from the Kupuna Caregivers Program mentioned earlier — was enacted in 1999 to help frail and vulnerable older adults age in place. The Legislature appropriated $4,145,695 for 2019-2020 and the same amount for 2020-2021. Services and supports provided by this program include transportation, attendant care, case management, home-delivered meals, homemaker and personal care services for eligible clients, typically with a minimum number of impairments or challenges to daily living.

Executive Office of Aging

Funds allocated to the Executive Office on Aging by the Legislature and federal government are often apportioned to agencies at the county level, which either provide services directly or contracts them out to community-based service providers such as nonprofit organizations.

The county-level agency that oversees programs is known as an Area Agency on Aging, and each county in Hawai‘i has one. O‘ahu’s office is called the City and County of Honolulu Elderly Affairs Division. The Big Island office is called the Hawai‘i County Office of Aging, the Valley Isle’s is the Maui County Office on Aging and, on Kaua‘i, the office is the County of Kaua‘i Agency on Elderly Affairs.

Web users can visit the Hawaii Aging and Disability Resource Center at for more information about available services and supports. Others may call the Senior Helpline at 768-7700 or, if in Honolulu, the Elderly Affairs Division at 643-2372 for telephone information and assistance.

Executive Office on Aging

Finally, funds were appropriated for the Executive Office on Aging to hire an Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia Services Coordinator. Although the position had already been created, it lacked the funding to hire someone to do the work. The person hired for this position will likely be planning the state’s coordinated response to dementia care in the coming years and updating a report that was prepared years ago on this topic.

Some proposals did not pass this year for various reasons, even with the endorsement of the Kupuna Caucus. These included:

• A bill that would have required health insurance companies to cover the cost of hearing aids up to $1,500 for each hearing-impaired ear did not pass, although it made its way through the legislative process almost to the end.

• Another proposal that would have established a retirement savings program for private sector employees whose employer does not have such a program also did not pass, despite strong support from AARP Hawai‘i.

• A proposal to create an active aging advisory committee and to implement an active aging initiative did not get far this year.

These and other unsuccessful proposals may resurface in future legislative sessions in similar or modified form.

The legislators at the May 3 briefing characterized the legislative successes on behalf of küpuna as a “team effort.” Members of the public who are interested in the Kupuna Caucus and upcoming legislation related to the well-being of older adults in Hawai‘i should contact the State Capitol offices of Rep. Takayama or Sen. Moriwaki to inquire about future meetings and to be added to the email notification list.

Organizations that follow pro-kūpuna public policy issues in Hawai‘i and beyond include AARP Hawai‘i, Kokua Council, Hawaii Alliance for Retired Americans and Caring Across Generations Hawai‘i.

Of course, citizens can also participate in the democratic process as interested individuals without any organizational affiliation. The legislative session may have just ended, and the Kupuna Caucus is taking a few months off from meetings during the summer, but soon the engines of legislative politics will gear up again for another round of discussion, debates and decision-making.

Kevin Y. Kawamoto is a longtime contributor to The Hawai‘i Herald.


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