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UH bills half way through the state Legislature

By: Geneva Diaz

13 April 2020

Courtesy: Chavonnie Ramos

Over 2,000 bills were introduced this Legislative session and more than 525 of those bills were UH related. A number of  measures were finance related, asking for appropriations by the state which were either amended to lower requests or deferred.


The University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents submitted a request of $28.1 million in general funds prior to the start of the 2020 Legislative session and was cut by $21.6 million from the House, according to a budget comparison table given Tuesday, March 11 by Kalbert Young, UH vice president for budget and finance and chief financial officer. 


Last week was the crossover deadline—, where Senate and House bills crossed over to the opposite chamber for further review.


Both the operating and capital improvement projects budget bills crossed over from the House to the Senate and have been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee according to the analysis. 


Originally the CIP request from the BOR was for $236.8 million, including renovation and improvement on various UHM buildings such Holmes and Kuykendall Hall, but the House has suggested $23.1 million for improvements to renew and modernize locations associated with UH like Waikīkī Aquarium and UH Mānoa Athletics.


Update on Mental Health


The House is trying to appropriate funds for $1.5 million in the budget for “Licensed Psychological Services on a Fee” compared to the UH request of $3 million for mental health professionals at all campuses.


“There was discussions at the House Committee on Finance as to whether a good compromise approach would be to provide funding for services so that a contractor(s) services could be more flexible and broadly deployed than having fixed on-staff university personnel providing the service,” Young said.


Having permanent psychologists might have been more effective long-term, according to the 2020 Legislative session update. The proposed approach was to have additional staff and professionals to further enhance the already existing services.


“Feedback from students and faculty is that the preference is to have physical professionals located on campuses rather than to have to direct students to off-campus providers or to have a small window of hours provided by private providers on campus,” Young said.


The $1.5 million would likely cover services across the 10+ university campuses from private contractors on a per hour basis which still may not provide as much coverage to the entire student population.


“Some other things to consider is accessibility to services, availability of services, the qualitative difference between in-person consultation versus other means of service (i.e. tele-consulting, after-hours availability, etc.),” Young said.


If the funding was to survive as appropriation, assessments would have to be made as to how the funding could best be distributed to meet the demands of all campuses.


“I am sure that service demand may not necessarily match population or enrollment – there would be other factors that would have to be considered,” Young said. “We would expect to get input from campus chancellors and student services directors as to how best to deploy funding.”


At the UHM, anxiety diagnoses have surpassed depression diagnoses, and suicidal ideations have increased. In the past, the Counseling and Student Development Center has utilized a few programs/intervention to augment direct clinical services. 


For example, as part of a suicide prevention grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the CSDC offered Kognito, a virtual simulation company specifically geared towards the UHM student population and faculty. But it was not taken advantage of and was eventually discontinued according to UH spokesperson Dan Meisenzahl.


“While $1.5 million may not match what was the university’s original funding request, it is still a lot of funding and should still help to improve the current level of services that are available,” Young said.


UH budget impacts from COVID-19


Since the UH budget comes from state funds, officials expect that the UH budget may be impacted by the coronavirus.


“Already there is evidence that general and broad economic activity has been reduced due to behaviors and societal activities trying to reduce / address the exposure of the coronavirus,” Young said. 


Because UH gets a great portion of its budget from state funds, it is expected for the remainder of the fiscal year and to the start of the next that there will be less tax revenues to fund state programs, less money to be appropriated by the Legislature due to declining tax revenue and economic activity throughout the state, as well as less money available for the next fiscal year for state agencies.


“For UH, all of these will mean that the University may have to curtail spending,” Young said.  “Conversely, the University will also have to consider new approaches towards delivery of services. For example, increasing online offerings or approaches to reduce the need for gathering or in-person interactions.”

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