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Hawaii program for tourists in need may close due to cuts

April 16, 2021 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — A 24-year-old Hawaii program that has helped tourists following traumatic events has said it may have to close.

The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii said it would not survive beyond this summer if proposed legislative budget cuts take effect, Hawaii News Now reported Wednesday.

The organization was founded in 1997 by the Honolulu Rotary Club because there was no aid organization for visitors.

The group had received $370,000 from the Hawaii Tourism Authority in 2020, but that was cut to about $277,000 this year.

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Now, the Legislature is considering cuts to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Safety and Security Programs that would eliminate most funding for Visitor Aloha Society.

The bill is heading for negotiations between House and Senate leaders, Hawaii News Now reported.

Jessica Lani Rich, the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii’s president and CEO, said she was shocked the program could lose its funding.

“We are in jeopardy of being eliminated,” Rich said.

Rich has led the organization for 16 years after spending four years as a volunteer. She said the program has helped Hawaii visitors who encounter themselves in difficult situations, including events that involving death, crime and other emergencies.

“Not everybody can walk into an ICU room and hold the hand of a woman who’s on vacation while her husband drowns,” Rich said.

In 2019, the organization responded to a skydiving crash that left 11 people dead,

Later that year, it helped family members of victims after a drunk driver struck a group pedestrians.

Rich also recalled a child’s death in a hotel years ago.

“Any time an unfortunate situation happens to a visitor, we show up and we show our visitors that Hawaii cares.”