Advocates worry immigrant, working families struggling to get by amid pandemic woes

Updated: Oct. 12, 2020 at 6:38 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new advocacy group said that the backlog in unemployment claims is hitting immigrant and working-class families hard.

“We found in the Kalihi area, many Marshallese, Micronesian and Filipino immigrant communities have been hard hit and they’re not getting the benefits they should get," said John Witeck, co-founder of the Hawaii Workers Center, a resource center created in May for low-income working residents.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the state Labor Department has struggled to pay out benefits to hundreds of thousands of claims filed statewide.

Language and cultural barriers have made the application process much more complicated for these working-class families, Witeck said.

“A lot of these people have no WiFi or have no computer skills," he said.

He said the Hawaii Workers Center is asking the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to reinstate in-person processing of the claims.

But the Labor Department said it can’t risk exposing its staffers to an outbreak which would reduce the number of people processing unemployment claims.

It said that in all 431 claims involving speakers with limited English skills that it handled between Jan. 1 and June 30, it provided translators or other services.

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