Hawaiians Can ‘Follow the Money’ on New Web Site

Published July 20, 2010

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has launched 4HawaiiansOnly—a Web site and project that examines grants made for the benefit of Native Hawaiians.

An examination of the database of grants at www.4hawaiiansonly.com finds 681 separate grants from the federal and state governments (including the Office of Hawaiian Affairs) intended to benefit those of Native Hawaiian ancestry. (Figures are only since fiscal year 2007 and don’t include the grants being allocated now for 2011.)

The total money involved is $246,464,873. That translates to an average of $361,916 per grant.

In Hawaii, Native Hawaiians (including children) make up about 20 percent of the population, or approximately 240,000 people.  It’s difficult to determine how they benefit from the numerous grants for Native Hawaiians, aside from the money put aside for Native Hawaiian Homelands, one of the few grants with measurable and obvious outlays and beneficiaries.

Direct Handouts Instead
What if, instead of spending the funds on community centers and oral history projects, the governments simply divided it among Native Hawaiians? That would leave each person with approximately $1,026 in cash. For a family of four, a couple with two children, that would come to $4,104.

But wait . . .  this doesn’t take into account the wealthy or middle-income earners among the Native Hawaiians. With so many of the grants focusing on the disadvantaged, we should take that into account. Removing the wealthier Native Hawaiian citizens from the calculation and applying it only to those in poverty—assume 25 percent—as beneficiaries leaves us with about 60,000 people who could really use help.

In that case, direct distribution would allow governments to send each needy Native Hawaiian receive $4,107, with a family of four receiving $16,432. This raises the interesting question of whether your the Native Hawaiian family would prefer to receive the benefits of a new cultural center and sustainable garden or a check for $16,432.

These calculations, it is important to remember, reflect only funds spent in the last three years. Imagine a check covering the grants of the last few decades.  Of course, this is just the raw math, without taking into account administrative expenses, overhead, the high penalty of having a large number of bureaucrats to hire, and so on.

Administrative Cost Burdens
For an average grant of $361,916, the total to be deducted from the grant amount for administrative expenses and the like is $123,000, which leaves $238,916 to get the job done. To sum it up: 34 percent for overhead, leaving 66 percent to achieve the purpose.

This is not just an intellectual exercise. Working out the actual dollar figures involved goes to the heart of whether these grants are effectively helping Native Hawaiians.

And the point about administrative fees isn’t just a jab at the bureaucratization of charity. In fact, determining the administrative costs of these programs is one of the main reasons for the creation of www.4hawaiiansonly.com—to find out how much of each grant goes to overhead expense. Or, to put it another way, how much of each grant actually gets to the intended recipients and with what effect?

Citizen Participation Encouraged
This is why each grant in the 4HawaiiansOnly database is also entered in the 4HawaiiansOnly Wiki—so the public can participate in the research and share their findings. The Grassroot Institute includes much help on the Web site to give amateur researchers a place to start, including a letter for generating Freedom of Information Act requests.

In our view, it makes perfect sense for this investigation to be part of a public research project—it is public money, after all. Those interested in helping conduct such research can contact the Grassroot Institute’s effort at [email protected].

Unlike government agencies and professional grant machines, transparency groups thrive in the sunlight.  In fact, we can’t wait to get your thoughts on the money breakdown noted here and detailed at www.4hawaiiansonly.com.

Malia Hill ([email protected]) is an attorney and senior fellow for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.