Native Hawaiian Krystal Ka’ai To Serve as Executive Director of White House Initiative
US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra today launched the Biden-Harris Administration’s White House Initiative to advance equity, justice and opportunity for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI), with Native Hawaiian Krystal Ka’ai serving as its Executive Director.
Secretary Becerra also named US Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai as his co-chair of both the White House Initiative and the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
The Initiative was reinstated in responded to the President’s Executive Order 14031.
Like other communities of color, Asian Americans (AA), Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to exacerbating long-standing health inequities facing AA and NHPI communities, the language of some political leaders during this public health crisis has also fueled a spike in anti-Asian bias, xenophobia and violence.
To address these inequities, the new WHIAANHPI is housed within Health and Human Services, returning this initiative to the department where it was first launched under the Clinton Administration in 1999.
The Initiative announcement was applauded by Hawaiʻi Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi (District 8 – Kauaʻi and Niʻihau), who said in a statement: “Mahalo nui to President Biden and his administration for relaunching the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. This whole-of-government approach to support AANHPI communities across the country will ensure we have a collective voice at the federal level.”
Sen. Kouchi added: “The appointment of Hawaiʻi natives Krystal Kaʻai and Erika Moritsugu to key White House positions and the administration’s decision to change the name of the Initiative to explicitly include Native Hawaiians is testament to President Biden’s promise to elevate the voices of our most underrepresented communities.
Moritsugu recently was appointed Deputy Assistant to the President and Asian American and Pacific Islander Senior Liaison.
“The Hawaiʻi State Senate looks forward to collaborating with WHIAANHPI and its federal partners to advance equity, justice and opportunity for our AA and NHPI communities,” Sen. Kouchi said.
“The appointment of Krystal Kaʻai serves as a beacon of hope and provides a sense of place for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the United States,” said Kūhiō Lewis, President and CEO for the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. “We are excited and eager to work with Krystal and the Biden Administration to address the important needs of our community.”
Kaʻai graduated from Kamehameha Schools and has served as Executive Director of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) since 2013. She led the legislative, communications and outreach strategy for more than 70 members of Congress. She also has served with the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the State of Hawaiʻi.
The newly-expanded White House Initiative includes an Interagency Working Group tasked with coordinating the federal government’s efforts to support AA and NHPI communities. It also includes a Regional Network comprised of federal officials in 10 federal regions across the country who help to connect AA and NHPI communities with federal grants, programs and resources.
The WHIAANHPI under the Biden-Harris Administration will:
- Focus on helping to coordinate a comprehensive federal response to the rise in acts of anti-Asian bias and violence
- Address the systemic lack of disaggregated data on AA and NHPI communities
- Expand language access and language assistance programs for AA and NHPI individuals across federal programs
- Address educational, health, economic and housing disparities impacting AA and NHPI communities and more.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to tackling a wide scope of challenges impacting communities that have been historically overlooked and underserved,” Secretary Becerra said.
Trade Ambassador Tai said: “Leading this initiative with Secretary Becerra will be a critical part of our work across government to expand opportunity, confront systemic barriers to success, and address the rising violence targeted at the AA and NHPI community.”
For more information on the White House Initiative, go to www.hhs.gov/whiaanhpi.