Complaints mount as state still struggles to keep up with unemployment claims

The state continues to struggle keeping up with unemployment claims, and this past week alone, more than 7,500 people filed new claims.
Published: Sep. 11, 2020 at 10:39 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 11, 2020 at 10:42 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state continues to struggle to keep up with unemployment claims, especially amid the ongoing shutdown. This past week alone, some 7,500 people filed new claims.

Additionally, there are currently over 10,000 claims waiting to be processed.

While the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is making progress on the backlog, there are many people who have been waiting on benefits since March.

Those claimants — as well as others who have received benefits and then had them taken away — are frustrated with the lack of communication from the unemployment office.

One East Honolulu woman who called Hawaii News Now but asked to remain anonymous says she was denied regular unemployment and was eventually paid around $8,000 from the PUA program.

Later, the state asked for that money back.

She has been in the appeals process for months and doesn’t know where to turn for help as her hundreds of calls to the DLIR have gone unanswered.

“After two appeals and four months later, I finally get a reply saying it’s still undetermined. I’m like ‘are you kidding me?’ No one’s picked up the phone, no one’s mailed me anything. It’s like you’re sending your appeal to a big black hole and they don’t respond. So for four months, we’ve had one response,” she said.

Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, acting director of the DLIR, said the office is prepared for new claimants and is working as quickly as possible to resolve communication issues within the department.

“We are preparing for things to possibly get worse," Perreira-Eustaquio said.

“We are bringing on that call center, we are hiring as we go. We are streamlining our processes so that we can get those payments out to claimants much quicker than we have.”

Meanwhile, the state will launch a new online feature Saturday to allow those eligible for $300 in additional weekly jobless benefits to enroll.

Claimants should sign into their accounts on the unemployment insurance portal and answer a pop-up page that allows them to self-certify that they were partially or wholly unemployed due to COVID-19.

To see a graphic demonstrating the process, click here.

The additional benefits are being paid out through the Lost Wages Assistance program.

The state will start processing payments in October and the payments will be staggered for each week you are eligible. Payments will be retroactive for eligible weeks dating back to Aug. 1.

In all, those eligible for the program will get up to five weeks of payments.

Those who get less than $100 per week in unemployment insurance benefits are not eligible.

For more information, click here.

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