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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

OHA expands emergency financial assistance program for Native Hawaiians

HONOLULU (Feb. 1, 2022) – Beginning Feb. 1, 2022, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs will expand the assistance available to Native Hawaiians through its Ka Wailele Emergency Financial Assistance Program. In addition to mortgage, rental and utility support, the Ka Wailele program will now be offering relief for car repairs, funeral expenses, and out-of-pocket medical expenses. Maximum awards will also be increased from $1,500 to $2,000. 

In June 2021, OHA announced that it was making $1,044,253 available to implement an emergency financial assistance program for Native Hawaiians. The Ka Wailele program is being administered by Hawaiʻi Community Lending (HCL), a nonprofit U.S. Treasury-certified community development financial institution that specializes in providing loans to local residents with a focus on Native Hawaiians, who cannot qualify at mainstream banks and credit unions. HCL and its sister company, Hawaiian Community Assets, operate four Financial Opportunity Centers on Oʻahu, Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island. 

HCL, as the administrator of the program, conducted community listening sessions to further identity financial needs of Native Hawaiians. One such meeting was with the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Hawai’i COVID-19 Response, Recovery and Resilience team coordinated by Papa Ola Lōkahi. Anecdotal evidence confirmed that living expenses were increasing and transportation, funeral and medical expenses, in particular, were becoming out of reach for some Native Hawaiians across the state. 

“We confirmed with data that applicants needed assistance with transportation to travel to work and school. Unfortunately, at the same time, family deaths and medical expenses directly or indirectly related to COVID-19 were becoming increasingly apparent as a need,” said HCL Executive Director Jeff Gilbreath. 

To address these growing financial needs, HCL and OHA worked collaboratively to expand the dollar amount of program grants and program uses to meet the needs of the Native Hawaiian community. 

Assistance with car registration costs will be ineligible and assistance limited to vehicle repairs and maintenance only. Funeral costs are limited to mortuary costs – casket, embalming, cremation, funeral service – as well as help with food and flower arrangement costs for funerals. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted our people and it is our hope that this emergency financial assistance from OHA can help ease some of the stress that our Native Hawaiian ‘ohana have experienced,” said OHA CEO/Ka Pouhana Dr. Sylvia Hussey. “We also mahalo HCL as an outstanding community partner as they work tirelessly to serve our Native Hawaiian beneficiaries.”  

Native Hawaiians who are at least 18 years old and in financial hardship should review program requirements and apply. No income requirements pertain but Native Hawaiians are limited in receiving OHA emergency financial assistance to one grant every two years. 

HCL will process applications, and payments will be made directly to landlords, mortgage lenders, utility providers, car repair shops, medical providers, or funeral homes. Approved applicants will also have access to financial counseling, additional grants or affordable loans, and career coaching through Financial Opportunity Centers run by HCL’s parent corporation, Hawaiian Community Assets. 

Native Hawaiians in financial hardship should apply online at www.oha.org/emergencyaid or www.kawailele.org. Persons without internet access or a computer are encouraged to call HCL at (808) 587-7656 to request a paper application or complete an application over the phone.  

In-person assistance will be available at Financial Opportunity Centers and remote offices statewide


Ka Wailele Program Requirements 

To qualify for Ka Wailele grants starting Feb. 1, applicants must meet the following qualifications: 

  • Be Native Hawaiian residing in Hawaiʻi;
  • At least 18 years old;
  • Be in financial hardship; and
  • Have documents to prove past due rent, mortgage, utilities, rental deposit, car repairs, funeral or medical expenses

Required Documents  

Native Hawaiian applicants will be required to submit the following documents with their applications to be considered for OHA’s Ka Wailele grants: 

Proof of Age and Hawaiʻi Residency  

  • Copy of Picture ID

Native Hawaiian Verification (One of the following)  

  • Copy of Birth Certificate
  • OHA Hawaiian Registry Card
  • Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Lease
  • Kamehameha Schools Hoʻoulu Registry

Proof of Financial Hardship (One of the following)  

  • Unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) approval letter
  • Letter from employer verifying you have been laid off or lost hours at work
  • Pay stubs prior to loss of income and current pay stubs
  • Business bank statements prior to loss of income and current income (if self-employed)

Housing (One of the following)  

  • Complete, signed, dated rental lease
  • Mortgage statement

Assistance Needed (One of the following)  

  • Past due rent – past due rent or eviction notice with amount owed
  • Past due utilities – past due utility or disconnection notice with amount owed OR bill from utility service (i.e., water delivery)
  • Past due mortgage – mortgage statement with past due amount
  • Car repair – estimate(s) for repairs within 30 days of application; proof of ownership
  • Funeral – estimate(s) from third party vendor(s) within six months of application; death certificate or obituary notice indicating death within six months of application; proof of relationship to deceased
  • Medical – bill within three months of application that indicates out-of-pocket expense OR estimate for procedure/treatment scheduled to occur within one month of application or reasonable timeframe

Learn more at www.oha.org/emergencyaid.   

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