HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since March 1, the state has taken in 201,836 jobless claims — a figure unthinkable just weeks ago.
The claims have overwhelmed the system — and show no signs of stopping as businesses continue to close amid the ongoing shutdown.
On Wednesday, a new state phone bank in Kakaako set up for those seeking information on their claims continued to experience problems.
The center went online Monday and is meant for those who already filed for unemployment and had follow up questions about their claim.
But Tuesday and Wednesday morning, callers were met with busy signals or the line would ring repeatedly.
Labor Department Director Scott Murakami said a fix was in the works.
“We believe that the pipe feeding the Kakaako area by our call center was too small ... so they expanded the bandwidth to 25 meg which we believe will help with the technology aspect and not have the call center fall anymore,” Murakami said.
He added while the phone lines are now working, that exposed another issue ― not enough staff to answer the lines.
Their two other phone banks in other locations have been working properly but those, too, are understaffed.
Hawaii News Now asked Murakami some of the common questions from those filing claims.
HNN: “Many viewers have said their claims have been denied without an explanation. What should they do to find out why?"
Murakami: "We are looking into creating a separate email address specifically for denied claims so that claimants would then have the ability to submit their emails in one place and that can help us understand what kinds of questions are coming through that email channel.”
Murakami said one those who have had previous unemployment claims denied without an expiration date could get the automatic response.
Murakami also said a portion of those claims were rejected ahead of new rules that waive restrictions for the self employed and independent contractors.
That includes Uber and Lyft drivers and others with 1099 tax forms.
“We are still trying to determine how we’re going to run 'PUA’ or the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. We did get guidance form the U.S. Department of Labor and we are working our way through that,” Murakami said.
He asked that those independent contractors and self employed wait a few days as the PUA guidelines are put into place.
But many say they can’t afford to wait.
Hawaii News Now viewers have sent dozens of emails and calls hoping the process can be made easier and move faster so they can get paid.
HNN: “Director, another issue, the job search requirements for those unemployed have now been waived, so why does the question still show up?”
Murakami: “Please don’t worry about that, all I ask you to do is please answer that ‘yes’ because they are able and available to work."
Murakami said the requirement that unemployed be searching for jobs was standard ahead of COVID-19 so removing the question would cause further delays.
He said it’s well known that there are few alternative jobs so answering “yes’ moves the process forward.
HNN: “When can people expect to receive benefits?"
Murakami said they have been working to push out checks within the 21-day timeline.
He said on Tuesday, $3 million was paid. That’s almost what the department paid in a week’s time ahead of the pandemic shutdowns.
He admitted the quicker turnarounds are for those with all the proper paperwork and that does not cover a significant portion of the newly unemployed population.
Murakami asked the state Department of Human Resources for help getting other state employees moved to his call centers and to help process claims.
He went from seven staff members in early March to 83 in April, by moving around workers from other units in DLIR.
Here is the contact information for the Labor Department. Keep in mind the phone numbers remain overloaded: