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Governor: I ‘ordered’ director handling unemployment claims to take time off

Updated: Jun. 10, 2020 at 7:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Why is the director of the state office that handles jobless claims on leave at a time when Hawaii is grappling with record unemployment?

In a bizarre explanation Wednesday, the governor says it’s because he “ordered” it.

“I ordered Director (Scott) Murakami to take some time off because as you know he was under tremendous pressure,” Gov. David Ige said, at the tail end of a news conference on inter-island travel.

“In meeting and talking with him, I decided it would be best that he take some time off for himself and his family. I ordered him to stay away.”

News that Murakami was on leave broke on June 5, when Civil Beat first reported it.

State officials previously declined to discuss the reason for Murakami’s absence, and wouldn’t even say if it was voluntary. Deputy Director Ann Eustaquio is now running the agency.

The state has struggled to process unprecedented levels of unemployment claims amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 230,000 filed 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.

This story will be updated.

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