Governor: I’m getting details before applying for additional federal jobless aid

Updated: Aug. 20, 2020 at 5:36 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige said Thursday he wants more clarification before applying for a new federal program that would provide an additional $300 in benefits to the unemployed.

The Lost Wage Assistance program was created by President Donald Trump through executive action — and is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

To qualify, states need to apply but the governor says he wants more details before committing.

“What we are looking for is an assurance from the federal government that should we start the program, regardless of what happens anywhere else, those payments would be made to those entitled to the benefits,” Ige said, at a news conference at the state Capitol on Thursday.

Ige’s fear: That FEMA disaster relief money would be drained to pay the jobless benefits. That same bucket is designed to cover natural disasters, like wildfires and hurricanes.

Ige and Acting Labor Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio met Wednesday to discuss the possible rollout of the program. “We just received guidance, final guidance from U.S. Department of Labor as well as FEMA,” Eustaquio said. “We want to make sure that we can implement this program and satisfy the requirements.”

Hawaii’s jobless rate was 13.1% in July, with about 83,000 people receiving unemployment benefits. The rate is down slightly from June’s 13.4% and May’s whopping 23.5%.

Eleven states have been approved for the LWA program and some have started paying out the benefits.

There are restrictions that make it more complicated than the previous $600 weekly plus up, which expired last month.

”There are some very strict paybacks and penalties in this new system,” said state Rep. Aaron Johanson, chairman of the House Labor Committee. “But I think for the sake of our people, everything has to be on the table when considering how to deal with our massive unemployment problem.”

Johanson said he was still disappointed that the governor vetoed a $230 million state plan to add $100 weekly to the jobless through the end of the year. Ige said he used the line-item veto because he wanted to wait and see what Congress was able to pass first. So far, Capitol Hill hasn’t come through.

The FEMA program has $44 billion, but with more states applying that money could run out in a month.

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