HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - An antiquated computer system for processing unemployment claims that uses decades-old programming is largely to blame for a significant backlog, officials said.
Delays have left some unemployed workers waiting four weeks or more to get their benefits.
In a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol building, state Labor Department Director Scott Murakami sought to explain the problems, saying the system has simply been overwhelmed.
Before the pandemic, staff handled about 700 claims a week.
But as layoffs started, an avalanche of claims poured in.
Since March 1, more than 250,000 people in Hawaii have filed for unemployment as stay-at-home orders and a mandatory quarantine for travelers shuttered hundreds of businesses and brought the tourism industry to a halt. Murakami said his office has seen as many as 2,500 claims in a single day.
The result: A state that long enjoyed one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates now has its highest. Those explanations, though, offer little solace to those waiting for benefits.
Murakami said Wednesday that his staff of seven people has swelled to 118, he’s added new call and claims processing centers, and there’s now a website to check claim status.
All those efforts are speeding up claims processing, but there’s still a hefty backlog — and a long wait.
Meanwhile, he said that independent contractors or self-employed workers ― eligible for unemployment benefits for the first time under the CARES Act ― will have to wait to file because a new online portal needs to be launched.
He said he hopes to start processing those applications by early May.
This story will be updated.