New unemployment call center opens in hopes of easing Hawaii’s severe backlog of claims

Unemployment call center opens in hopes of easing Hawaii’s severe backlog of claims
Published: Apr. 22, 2020 at 11:14 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As thousands await their first unemployment payments, a new call center and claims processing site is launching Wednesday at the Hawaii Convention Center.

“This new call center at the Hawaii Convention Center will accommodate up to 30 lines and will be expandable to other areas and has a full-blown system which allows us to queue people up,” said Scott Murakami, the director of the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

It’s the fourth and biggest call center so far — with the space and technology that the other sites didn’t have.

Murakami said because more volunteers than expected showed up for training earlier this week, the call center won’t be operational until the weekend.

Volunteers who were trained to process claims, however, will begin doing so on Wednesday.

Hours of operation are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Originally, the site was going to be used as a COVID-19 quarantine facility. But it is ideal for the Labor Department because it provides ballrooms that allow for social distancing and security because it is closed to the public.

[Have a question about filing for unemployment claims? Click here for the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ FAQ]

Volunteers include lawmakers and legislative staff.

Other government employees are also contributing and equipment was provided by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Another site being used by the Labor Department is the state Public Library. Librarians and staff got together and volunteered when the facility was forced to shutdown.

There is also a phone bank set up at the Entrepreneurs Sandbox in Kakaako, plus the actual claims office in downtown are all working to process filings.

The new call center comes as the first batch of people receiving unemployment benefits are expected to see extra $600 payments, which were part of the federal relief package.

The increase is a weekly payment from March 29 through the end of July — and it is retroactive.

Hawaii’s unemployed have so far received $5,898,000 in plus-up payments since the system went online April 18. The extra federal funds are among the ways government is trying to soften the blow from coronavirus shutdowns.

The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations also reported paying out more than $31 million last week to the unemployed. That’s greater than the previous eight weeks combined, which totaled $28.6 million.

While some have started getting jobless benefits, many more still wait — in frustration.

Hawaii’s unemployment rate leads the nation with more than 250,000 filings since March 1.

[Read more: State launches new online portal for tracking unemployment claims]

[Read more: Help is coming to ease Hawaii’s severe unemployment claim backlog]

Murakami said the claims without issues are the ones that have moved through to the payment process. Minor problems can hold up applications, he said.

“From getting the wrong date of unemployment, they may not remember exactly when they started," he said.

But if the date they use doesn’t match records, the system creates an error that needs to be resolved. Other problems: A digit is off on a Social Security number, or the business name listed is different on an official record.

All of these can be fixed, but require a person to do the research.

By the end of this week, Murakami said, he’ll have about 300 new people who can help.

Fears that the state trust fund will run out of money by next month is not a concern for Murakami who said the office has applied for a line of credit from the Treasury Department and the request won’t be denied.

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