New unemployment call center set to launch as state struggles to keep up with claims

New unemployment call center set to launch as state struggles to keep up with claims

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state’s unemployment office says a new call center should be coming online by the end of the month to handle the current caseload.

Hawaii News Now has reported extensively on the severe communication problems at the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Many of those who have trouble seeking benefits say they can call all day, every day and still not get through to have their questions answered.

That’s leaving many families with absolutely nowhere to turn.

“We’re getting scared. I mean, how are we going to pay for our bills? We don’t have any money coming in, very little state things. It was frightening that we weren’t going to be able to make our payments,” said Russell Raymond, an unemployed kitchen manager at a local resort.

Finally, there is a hard target date for when a new call center with trained customer service contractors should come online.

This week, Anne Perreira-Eustaquio was officially named director of state Labor Department.

On Thursday, she said the state is contracting with a mainland company called Maximus to bring on 100 people to take customer service calls for the unemployment office.

“So these individuals coming on board to take these calls, need to understand the system, how it works, how to help these claimants and not just answer a call, but fix something if they can,” Perreira-Eustaquio said.

The director also said the department is making serious progress when it comes to PUA claims. There are 53 people dedicated to processing those benefits and the department is in the process of hiring 17 more.

“They are moving much faster. We are making progress on PUA. We’ve been able to tackle fraud. We paid out 2,600 claims this past Monday and another 8,500 weeks of claims will be released this weekend,” she added.

The extra $300 a week that eligible claimants have been waiting on through FEMA’s Lost Wages Assistance program will be paid out next month.

DLIR says the money was available to the state earlier, but engineers had to build a brand new program to roll out the benefit and verify eligibility.

So far, the unemployment office has taken in 135,000 self certifications for the program but says there are still tens of thousands who may be eligible but haven’t self certified.

DLIR encourages people to log into their accounts as quickly as possible to make sure they can be paid.

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