So far, new unemployment call center is falling short of promises

Despite new call center, unemployment benefits still backlogged

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state’s Labor Department launched a new call center this week to help address the thousands of people still wait for unemployment benefits.

The plan was to have it up end running by the end of September with 100 trained staffers who could actually help callers with claims.

But so far, many unemployment claimants aren’t impressed.

“I saw on the (Facebook unemployment support) group post this morning when I woke up that they had a new call center up and running and that things should be going smoothly," said Jeremy Merritt, who has been waiting on benefits since March.

“I tried 40, 50 times and this new system was even more infuriating than the last."

Merritt, like many others, has a complicated claim that needs attention but says he hasn’t received response to e-mails or calls and is running out of options.

Keli’i Sur worked for UPS but because of a medical condition, had to leave his job when the pandemic came to Hawaii.

He’s been trying to get help with his claim and feels like no one from the Labor Department is listening.

“I will call it 10 to 20 times a day and nothing. You can’t even get through. It would just say ‘please call again later’ or ‘try again another time’,” Sur said.

Labor Director Anne E. Perreira-Eustaquio says she understands those frustrations and more help is on the way.

The new virtual call center launched Wednesday at noon with just 50 staffers that are only trained to handle simple claim issues.

“By Monday we should have about 120 agents online and by mid October we’ll have our 200 online. So, as soon as we get those 200 all working all at one time, we’re probably still going to continue to see heavy workload,” said Perreira-Eustaquio.

The plan also includes bringing on 100 adjudicators by mid-October to help deal with more tricky claims: Those involving disputes between employers and employees, or issues with misconduct or not accepting work.

Meanwhile, many Hawaii residents who have been receiving benefits from the Labor Department are coming up on an important milestone. Thousands will have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits, meaning they have to apply for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

That’s an additional 13 weeks of payments. But in order to apply, your regular benefits account has to be at $0. For more information on applying for PEUC benefits, click here.

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