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At least 700 state workers volunteer to tackle unemployment backlog

The first wave of state employee volunteers began processing unemployment claims today.
The first wave of state employee volunteers began processing unemployment claims today.(None)
Updated: Apr. 22, 2020 at 9:12 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The first wave of about 200 state worker volunteers began tackling Hawaii’s massive backlog of unemployment claims.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said a second shift will be added next week that could double the number of people processing claims.

“Yesterday was really good. Although it was a training day and it was not at capacity, 2,500 claims were processed,” said Saiki.

“As volunteers become more comfortable with the computer system, then I’m assuming they’ve be able to process more claims.”

But not all were at ease with the set up.

State Sen. Laura Thielen took to Facebook to talk about the slow pace of the work, saying it took her almost four hours to process 29 claims.

“The state unemployment insurance computer system is from the 1980s. It is not user friendly. It’s not quick. It’s not intuitive,” she wrote.

The head of the Labor Department agreed.

“We tried to speed it up as much as possible, but unfortunately some of those systems are rather dated as well," said state Labor Department Director Scott Murakami.

More than 250,000 people have filed for unemployment since March 1, creating a massive backlog that could take months to clear.

The state public employee unions, who along with the Legislature helped organize the volunteer drive, said they hope the additional bodies will reduce the wait to weeks.

The unions -- the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the Hawaii State Teachers Association -- have signed up about 580 volunteers. About 100 state Legislative staffers are also volunteering while various other state agencies are contributing the rest.

Many like Eric of Makiki hope the claims process improves quickly.

The 69-year old shuttle bus driver was furloughed on March 24 and filed for unemployment shortly after that.

He said he got a call this morning from a Labor Department staffer who told that he had to re-enter some of his weekly pay check records online, even though he hasn’t been able to sign on.

“I’ve been trying to get through all morning long between going online and calling them by phone. On the phone I get busy signals. On the Internet all I get is ‘sorry high volume, try again later,’” he said.

“If she had done it right there, this would be done ... It’s frustrating. I almost broke down and cried this morning it was so frustrating.”

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