Despite new unemployment call center, many still struggling to get answers

Despite new unemployment call center, many still struggling to get answers

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state’s Labor Department continues to work through thousands of unemployment claims, and by most accounts, the new call center that was supposed to help with processing those claims hasn’t been effective.

There were just over 5,000 new initial unemployment claims filed this past week and while those numbers are slowly improving, there are still many who need help resolving issues with their claims.

DLIR hired Maximus, a mainland company, to replace a dismantled phone bank that was at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Acting Labor Director Anne Eustaquio said Maximus was recommended and she was told that Maximus could set up a virtual call bank quickly to help Hawaii’s unemployed.

The plan was to have 200 trained operators will be answering phones from 7:45 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. Monday through Friday. In addition, 100 adjudicators were supposed to have been brought on by mid-October to deal with more complicated issues that typically hold up claims.

“It makes you go crazy. I mean, even today, I’m still going crazy because I don’t know. There’s no actual answer and there’s nobody you can talk to,” said Jack Kaahui, who was laid off from his hotel job early on in the pandemic.

Both he and his wife have been without work for most of the year and both had issues with their claims. For months, getting any help by phone just wasn’t happening.

Like so many, they had hoped the new call center would be the light at the end of their tunnel, but after countless calls every day for weeks, they finally got through only to have someone say their issue would be assigned to an examiner who would contact them later.

“She said, ‘let me get my supervisor.’ She gets the supervisor and they basically said there was a glitch in the website and try again in 24 hours,” added Kaahui.

There’s currently a class-action lawsuit before the Hawaii Supreme Court aims to get the state Labor Department to move faster on the thousands of jobless workers whose claims remain unresolved amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The petition was filed at the end of last month and demands that DLIR process the backlog of claims immediately — seeking emergency payments to unemployed residents who are still awaiting resolution.

Hawaii News Now reached out the DLIR multiple times to get an update on the call center but haven’t heard back in the last two days.

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