State pledges to launch ’virtual call center’ to field questions about jobless benefits

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Updated: Sep. 2, 2020 at 5:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state says a “virtual call center” is in the works to deal with the endless delays on its unemployment hotline.

“We know it’s difficult to get through those lines because ... current staff is inundated with processing claims,” said Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, acting director of the state Labor Department.

For the past month, unemployed callers have had to endure long waits after the Labor Department shut down its phone bank at the Hawaii Convention Center.

The phone bank at its peak had hundreds of volunteers answering calls, but those calls have since been redirected to the Labor Department’s downtown office.

“I’ve called hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times and never getting through,” said unemployed Uber and Lyft driver Diana Choy, who filed for the state’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in April.

Choy said she was cut off in June after the Labor Department asked her to re-verify her personal information as part of a crackdown on fraud.

Even though she did, she said the state didn’t restore her benefits.

She said she’s now owed more than $11,000.

“The communications part is the part what really really frustrates me. There’s none, zero communication from them. That tells me there’s a big lack of leadership there,” she said.

Local dive instructor Kimberly Jeffries has experienced similar frustrations. Her PUA benefits were cut off in June when she moved and updated her address with the state.

“It’s super frustrating ... they’ve had six months to figure this out,” said Jeffries, who’s owed about $7,000.

“If I didn’t have a boyfriend’s house to live at, I would be on the streets.”

Labor Department said it’s in the process of hiring a contractor to operate the call center. It said there are more than 15,000 PUA applicants whose claims are still going through the verification process.

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