Q&A: New Director Will White Shares Future Advocacy Plans for Hawaii Budget and Policy Center – State of Reform

will be white became director of the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center (HBCP) in early 2022. He returned to his hometown of Kalihi Valley after several years as senior director of policy and government affairs at United Way Bay Area. Its primary focus has been to use the Hawaii state budget and tax code to promote economic security for Hawaiian communities.

In this Q&A, White talks about the intersection of health and economic well-being, as well as his short- and long-term plans for HPBC.

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State of the reform: What are your current priorities regarding Hawaii’s economic well-being and access to care?

Will White: “Much of the work of the budget center focuses on budget issues and tax policy. So I really focused on that and how we can use the state budget and our tax code to provide economic security. In my previous role at United Way, we did a lot of advocacy around access to care, especially for the undocumented population.

Nationally, there is a gap in our ability to provide care to everyone in our communities. I’d be interested in taking a closer look at whether Hawaii will actually plan [the undocumented] population. As you know, we are all healthier when everyone has access to care.

OR: Are there any specific policies that HBPC monitors?

WW: “There is an opportunity to overturn Hawaii’s reputation when it comes to standing up for workers and working families. This [may] be quality access to care, access to other public benefits such as food stamps, [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] and have access to refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, our Food Excise Credit and Tenant Credit.

These are economic security issues, but they are also health issues. We know that one of the most important drivers of health status and one of the most important determinants of health is income. When you have a regular, stable income, you are less likely to have poor health outcomes. There is a great deal of research since the 1970s documenting this with the federal earned income tax credit, and its potential to improve the lives of people with young children and improve educational outcomes for children and families who have received a credit.

OR: What legislative priorities will you follow during this session?

WW: “This legislative session aims to ensure that our State Earned Income Tax Credit is made refundable and permanent. Our State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) was created in 2017 It was established for five years as a non-refundable credit.

It’s great that the state has taken the first step on the road to establishing an EITC, but since the credit is non-refundable, it just means that the lowest income workers cannot access the full value of the credit, because it only allows you to reduce your tax burden. For low-income workers, they often have multiple tax obligations. [EITC are] not really go as far and be as effective as it could be.

It’s going to be a huge push for us this year. We have some momentum right now in the legislature. There are a few proposals to make the credit both refundable and permanent. But we will definitely do advocacy on this issue for sure.

OR: Going forward, what are some of your short and long term goals for HPBC?

WW: “[We’re] seeks to ensure that HBPC is more active in the Legislative Assembly. [We’re] still creating high quality research and data analysis, but using it as a springboard for our advocacy. We can take these projects and reports that we generate and present them to decision makers to help inform their thinking process.

Long term, I’m really interested in seeing how we can work more on racial equity and inclusion, and look at the state budget and our tax policies through a racial equity lens…we have health disparities and economics quite clear when it comes to Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. People talk about it, but I think it would be really interesting to look at how these concepts of race and equity are actually reflected in our budget and our tax code, and how that affects things like health or in our criminal justice system. ”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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