Hawaii’s unemployed workers grow increasingly desperate as check delays drag on

Many of Hawaii’s jobless near the end of their emergency funds as they desperately await unemployment checks

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - One third of Hawaii’s workforce has now filed an unemployment claim — and those are just the ones who have been successful.

And more than a month after mass layoffs began, many still are waiting for their first check.

The situation is leading many to get increasingly desperate as bills mount and pantries empty. They say that the delays, denials and defects in the unemployment system are simply unacceptable.

[Check the status of your claim by clicking here.]

Holly Reiplinger used to spend her days at Kamaka Hawaii, making ukulele. Now her days are devoted to refreshing the state’s unemployment claims website — just to check the status of her claim.

“I’m going on week four. I figured I would at least get a check after three weeks, but nothing," she said. “According to the person who I spoke to today, it’s just a waiting game.”

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It’s a waiting game that some people can’t afford to play much longer.

“I have $70 in my bank account and I hadn’t had any income since the 11th,” said Kirsty Watt, who was laid off from her job as a server at The Nook Neighborhood Bistro.

Since March 1, more than 230,000 Hawaii workers have filed unemployment claims.

Amanda Ybanez, Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board vice chair, is one of them. She said she started stockpiling SPAM on sale in February and is living on her dwindling savings.

“The state needs to work for the people who work hard every day," she said.

“The workers who work hard every day, relentlessly to support their families, to pay their taxes ... and then now, when there is a real crisis, a pandemic, we expect, and we deserve to have that payment.”

People have even posted a petition online calling on the state to work faster to disburse funds.

Those calls have been met with mixed responses from the state. The state Labor Department has said it’s added additional workers and phone lines to handle the avalanche of claims.

And on Monday, Gov. David Ige sought to reassure residents that the state is hearing their concerns.

“We think we’ve worked through the greatest part of that, and certainly I think moving forward, we’ll be in a better place to respond to the needs of our community,” Ige said.

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