Director of Hawaii department handling unemployment claims goes on leave

Director of Hawaii department handling unemployment claims goes on leave
Labor Department Director Scott Murakami has grappled to handle the avalanche of unemployment claims amid the pandemic.

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - At a time when the state is grappling with record unemployment, the director of the office that handles jobless claims is on leave.

Civil Beat first reported the news, and Hawaii News Now was able to independently confirm it.

Officials would not say why Labor Department Director Scott Murakami is on leave or whether it was voluntary. Deputy Director Ann Eustaquio is now running the agency.

The state has struggled to process the unprecedented levels of unemployment claims amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 220,000 people in the islands have lost their jobs since March 1.

As layoffs mounted, Hawaii’s unemployment system couldn’t handle the avalanche of unemployment applications. Murakami added staff and sought to make other changes to speed up processing.

Despite those efforts, thousands of applications are still pending.

Murakami has repeatedly apologized for the issues, pointing to an antiquated system and the incredible scale of the crisis.

His role has put him in an uncomfortable spotlight, leaving him the target of people’s ire as they waited weeks and longer for word about their benefits.

Hawaii now has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. Before the pandemic, it had one of its lowest.

This story will be updated.

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