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State seeks to crack down on fraudulent jobless claims

State of Hawaii unemployment office
State of Hawaii unemployment office(None)
Published: Jun. 16, 2020 at 5:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The longtime unemployment administrator who is now running the state Labor Department while her boss is on leave says staff shortages and fraud continue to impact delivery of unemployment payments.

Anne Perreira-Estaquio says 88% of the first-time claims ― or more than 200,000 ― have been paid.

The department received a huge infusion of staff (mostly volunteers) who staffed the convention center processing center. They were processing initial claims and approving many that didn’t have errors or incomplete information.

But many claimants have told Hawaii News Now they’ve been told to wait, sometimes many weeks, for a claims examiner to call them to resolve questions about their applications.

“The volunteers at the claims center can’t really tackle those issues. It’s a little above their level,” Perreira-Estaquio said.

“So it’s going to take us awhile to get through these issues. Some are very complicated and we want to make sure that these issues are adjudicated accurately and that we make the accurate determinations so that claimants as well as their employers are given their due process.”

The other issue is increasing fraud, especially targeting the new system known as “PUA” that was set up rapidly to provide benefits to contractors and self-employed individuals who were not eligible for traditional unemployment payments.

Perreira-Estaquio said fraud in the traditional system is “minimal” but false claims using stolen information from Hawaii residents are increasing in the PUA system so the state has begun verifying the identities of applicants by sending letters to the claimants.

“We are still looking at the numbers. We are trying to decipher how many of them are fraud. We have sent out those letters to see if these claims that were filed were actually those individuals who filed the claims,” she said.

In some cases, the state has stopped paying suspect claims or delayed them pending verification.

Perreira-Estaquio spoke to Hawaii News Now on Tuesday in her first interview since being appointed as the acting head of the Labor Department.

She stepped into the role after Gov, David Ige abruptly put Director Scott Murakami on leave.

The governor said he ordered Murakami on leave because he was under intense pressure and stress and deserved time with his family.

Murakami oversaw the dramatic ramping up of the department as it scrambled to process an avalanche of unemployment claims.

Asked if she thought Murakami had done a good job, Perreira-Estaquio said she could not answer the question and that any inquiries about Murakami’s status must come from the Governor’s Office.

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