As state seeks additional $300 for unemployed, thousands of claims still left unprocessed

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Updated: Aug. 25, 2020 at 5:13 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige announced Tuesday that the state will apply for federal aid that provides an extra $300 a week for the unemployed.

The news comes as the state braces for an increase in layoffs in the wake of a stay-at-home order for Oahu, which will close a host of non-essential businesses for at least two weeks.

Meanwhile, at least 10,000 jobless claims have yet to be processed.

At last check, about 83,000 Hawaii residents were receiving unemployment benefits.

Karen Winpenny has been seeking unemployment insurance since in mid-May and she still hasn’t received any benefits. “It’s been a nightmare,” she said. “It’s a disgrace what the state has been doing with thousands of us. I’ve faxed, I’ve emailed. I’ve called hundreds and hundreds of times."

Winpenny started the unemployment process after being furloughed from her position at the Hawaii Theatre Center. She said since losing her job, she’s placed more than 100 calls a day to the unemployment office. She’s also filed 14 claims that have not been answered.

“I’ve had to borrow money from my family and friends, which is very embarrassing being that I normally wouldn’t have to do that,” Winpenny said.

“And then secondly, a friend of mine told me I could go apply for food stamps, which I had no choice but to do. So I can see where there’s a lot of people in my shoes. I’ve talked to a lot of people that are in my shoes and I don’t think it’s right what the state is doing. It’s not OK.”

Winpenny’s struggle is similar to thousands of Hawaii residents.

The state Labor Department acknowledges there’s a backlog, but says it is getting a handle on the claims.

“We are actually being more proactive than reactive,” said state Labor acting Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio. “We’ve worked on our system, it seems to be running much more smoothly. It can take in more claims than it could before.”

The state says it has hired about 45 people to assist with unemployment claims and in the past, has used work spaces at the Hawaii Convention Center to manage a flood in calls.

But getting through crowded phone lines remains a challenge.

“We are trying to take those calls as quickly as possible,” Perreira-Eustaquio said.

“We are also trying to work on the claims and get those processed and fixed so that people can be paid.”

Regarding PUA claims for the self-employed, the Labor Department said it now has a system in place to deal with fraud and clears nearly 2,000 claims a week.

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